The staggering passing numbers that Bo Levi Mitchell put us this fall were bound to grab the attention of college football followers nationwide.
Yet Eastern Washington University’s senior quarterback was “shocked” by Tuesday’s announcement that he had been named the 2011 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
“Honestly, I was, just because of all the great players we have in our conference,” said Mitchell, a second-year transfer from Southern Methodist, who capped his abbreviated career at EWU by throwing for a school-record 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. “I feel absolutely honored to be named by the league’s coaches.
“You and your teammates work to accomplish team goals the entire season. But to win an individual honor of this stature is really nice, because it recognizes all the hard work you put in, not just during the season, but during the offseason, too.”
Several of Mitchell’s teammates were also named to the All-Big Sky first team, including junior wide receiver Nicholas Edwards, who set school records for receptions (95) and touchdown catches (19), and was one of six unanimous picks.
Senior center Chris Powers and senior safety Matt Johnson, who both missed several games with injuries, were repeat first-team selections. The Eagles’ other first-team honoree was sophomore cornerback T.J. Lee. Junior wideout Greg Herd, senior defensive tackle Renard Williams and senior special teams standout Darriell Beaumonte were named to the second team.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Katy, Texas, led an injury-ravaged Eastern team to a 6-5 overall record and 5-3 finish in the Big Sky. He became only the fourth player in conference history to throw for 4,000 yards in 11 games, joining Montana Dave Dickenson, Idaho’s John Friesz and Weber State’s Jamie Martin, who all went on to win the Walter Payton Award.
During his two years in Cheney, Mitchell helped his team to 19 wins, 13 of which came during last year’s run to an NCAA Division I championship. No other Eagles quarterback has had a hand in more wins during a two-year span.
Mitchell credited much of his improved play this fall to the sit-down sessions he had with head coach Beau Baldwin and quarterbacks coach Zak Hill. They discussed letting the game come to him more than he did as a junior, when he threw a school-record 37 touchdowns passes, but was also intercepted 15 times.
“They both told me to just take things as they come more,” said Mitchell, who completed 63.2 percent (318 for 503) of his passes this year and threw just four interceptions in his last six games. “Instead of going out and trying to force things to get yards, I just kind of let the yards happen by getting our athletes the ball in space – like Nick and Greg, who can both catch the ball on a 6- or 7-yard play and end up taking it for 20 or 30, and even 60, which Greg did a lot.
“The growth of our receivers during the season and the offseason helped a lot, too, because those guys are playmakers.”
Baldwin, when asked to comment on Mitchell’s award said, “He’s not only put up great numbers and can throw the ball well, but he’s proven himself as a winner. Eight different times (in the past two seasons) we were down or tied in the fourth quarter, and he led us back to win. That says a lot.
“It’s a well-deserved honor for that young man for what he’s done statistically, and from a win-loss standpoint. He’s been a great leader, and helped lead our program to a national championship.”