EUGENE, Ore. -- There's a good chance even the most devout Oregon fans don't know about one of the most crucial elements of the Ducks' up-tempo offense.
Well, let's take that back. There's a good chance they've seen him and could recognize him on the street, but they have no idea who he is.
His name is Kwame Mitchell -- you know, the guy with the partially bleached Gumby haircut who is typically seen whipping up and down the sideline in formation with Marcus Mariota and the rest of the Oregon offense. Although Red Lightning -- Florida State's Internet-famous manager -- is the more famous ball boy in this Rose Bowl matchup, Mitchell should be known just the same.
Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major at Oregon, stumbled upon the job. He left his hometown of San Jose, California, and assumed he'd join a fraternity once he got to Eugene. But during the first football game of his freshman year (the Ducks lost to No. 4 LSU), he realized he wanted to be involved with Oregon football, even though he had never played the sport.
He made a few phone calls and learned he could "try out" during the spring season, with the final exam the spring game.
It was more nerve-wracking than any basketball tryout he had been part of and more exhausting than most, as well, but he passed and was named to the team's group of managers. More importantly, at least to his parents, he was put on scholarship by the university.
That's when the hard work began. Mitchell learned quickly that fall camp was far less relaxed than spring ball, and when the tempo of the offense falls on the shoulders of the guy on the sideline with the ball (meaning Mitchell), he better not be anything less than perfect.
"I have to be on point because coach [Mark] Helfrich will get on me if I'm not on top of this," Mitchell said. "I need to be spotting the ball quick or getting the ball to the ref quick because if I don't, it messes with our tempo. If they don't go fast, it's on me."
Mitchell quickly learned how important this was. Although he has been nearly perfect this year (there was that time in the Pac-12 Championship game when the official didn't see Mitchell on the sideline, and he ended up a second slow in getting the ball on the field), Mitchell knows how crucial his role is to the team. Even if other people don't see it, Mitchell knows Helfrich is watching.
"He's a very calm guy," Mitchell said. "But when it comes down to game day, and we have to take care of business, it's business. ... I learned my lesson quick. I'm not going to mess up."
That's not the only thing he needed to do quickly. He quickly needed to get back into his high school playing shape. With the amount of running expected of him during games and practices, he had to watch what he ate and ramp up how often he exercised, just so he could keep up with Mariota & Co.
This season -- thanks to the number of offensive line shifts that have resulted in random offensive line penalties -- he has been running up and down the field with the line of scrimmage more than ever.
The mark of a good ball boy -- with the exception of those who've become noticed for their monstrous sprints -- is going completely unnoticed. But of late, Mitchell has found that has become increasingly difficult.
"Recently people out in Eugene have been telling me I look familiar," Mitchell said. "And I'm like, ‘What do you mean I look familiar? You've probably never seen me in your life.'"
Then most say, well, they haven't seen him so much as they've seen his hair on the sideline of Oregon games. That is true -- the flat top with an angled cut, combined with the bleach 'do make a relatively recognizable combo.
He'll be there on the sideline on New Year's Day too. He and Red Lightning will be dueling it out as two of the more recognizable ball boys for two of the top three teams in the country.
Red Lightning (real name: Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat) began growing his hair out last season and didn't cut it during the 2013 campaign because his team started winning. Mitchell is equally superstitious. Could it just be coincidence the one loss of the season came when Mitchell's hair went from bleached to dyed pink (note: it was dyed pink for the same game the Ducks wore pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month)?
He isn't willing to risk it.
For the Rose Bowl, Mitchell's bleached Gumby cut will be on one sideline, while Red Lightning's glowing coiffure is on the other.
Although their hair is what makes them recognizable, it's their speed and ability to keep up with their teams that have made them known on their sidelines.