COLUMBUS —Teradja Mitchell knows the path in front of him at Ohio State.
He knows there’s a format, a master plan, that comes with being a Buckeyes linebacker. He has seen it in action for three seasons. Mitchell had the chance to watch four hard-working grinders lay out the plan for he and his pair of classmates in the linebacker room.
Now, Mitchell must put that plan to good use this spring and into the summer. This spring is Mitchell’s first at Ohio State in which the depth chart seems to be in his favor. And if he follows that path set forth by Buckeyes linebackers before him, he has a chance to be the next star of the Silver Bullets defense.
“There’s been a blueprint set up with those four guys that just left,” Mitchell said. “I just kind of followed the blueprint and just stepped into the role. I have to be the leader in the room now, being the older guy, me, Dallas and K’Vaughan. So it just kind of comes natural to me because we’ve seen what it takes to lead the unit. Just following the footsteps of the older guys.”
The plan could have crumbled after Mitchell’s freshman year when former linebacker’s coach Billy Davis departed the program. After Ryan Day took over for Urban Meyer, he brought in Al Washington from Michigan to lead the linebackers unit. Coaching changes aren’t always easy for young players. Mitchell made sure to stick with the Buckeyes. Washington has made the expectations clear inside the linebackers room.
Washington knows what it takes to be an Ohio State linebacker. His father played linebacker for the Buckeyes. So when it comes to helping Mitchell reach his potential — another part of the plan — Washington has been helping him for two seasons.
“The standard of Ohio State linebackers, this thing, it goes well beyond, years, so we talk about that all the time,” Washington said. “We’re aware of that. … The standard is the standard. That’s non-negotiable. That’s something that we have to, when we do our day-to-day business, something we have to think in the back of our mind. The guys that are in the room now, they’ve worked really, really hard. They’ve taken advantage of their gaps in time to earn that position, that standard of being a linebacker. But they have to continue to do it. It’s a day-to-day thing.
“We’ve got to see better. Every day, it’s a daily thing. They do have work to do. They do have to continue to take advantage of they time that they have to get better and to uphold that standard.”
This plan, reaching that standard, wasn’t always easy for Mitchell, a former top-50 recruit from Virginia Beach. He watched Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Braon Browning create a logjam at the top of the depth chart. As Justin Hilliard emerged in the last two seasons, he began to find the field before Mitchell, too. But now all four of those linebackers are graduated and off to the NFL draft.
Mitchell paid his dues as he watched those four from the sideline for three seasons. The returns already seem to be promising.
“We just have the expectation to be the toughest and baddest unit on the team,” Mitchell said. “In the weight room, everywhere. Being a linebacker at Ohio State, you have to compete. You have to be a tough guy. Those guys like Tuf, Pete, Baron, Justin, that’s what they did. They came in and they worked every day. They just taught us. Coming in, Tuf Borland taught me how to work. Justin Hilliard taught me how to work. I just went under their wing.
“Now that I’m the older guy, it’s come natural to me. All I’ve known is work.”
As he waited his turn and took advantage of playing time when it came, Mitchell certainly learned. He learned how to play at a Big Ten level while handling his self-diagnosed performance anxiety. He learned how to be a better note-taker in the film room. Mitchell just learned how to grind to become the best player he can be.
Those three seasons of learning will come in handy around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, especially now without the four leaders of the room in the building.
“When I came in here, I came in here humble, just ready to work and learn,” Mitchell said. “Just learning from guys like Tuf, Pete, Baron and Justin Hilliard. I just came in and learned from those guys. Obviously me being a natural leader, I just developed my leadership even more watching those guys. Now that I’m a senior, I have the ability to lead. It’s natural for me.”
As he enters his fourth season in the program, Mitchell understands the standard and what it takes to be a high-level linebacker for Ohio State. He had a front-row seat for the last three seasons, which featured consistent play from consistent players.
He had to wait his turn to show he can be the next great Buckeyes linebacker. Teradja Mitchell is ready to show what he learned during that time — and become next in line of talented players to come through Ohio State.
“It’s been very difficult,” Mitchell said. “But like I said, it’s a commitment I made to this program my junior year when I committed. I just, I’m all in on this program.
“I know in the end, it was going to work out for me, just kept my head down and worked every day. That’s all.”