Things didn't quite go as planned for redshirt sophomore wide receiver Steven Mitchell in his first year-and-a-half at USC.
Arriving on campus as a highly touted prospect out of Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany in the summer of 2013, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee that forced him to miss his entire freshman campaign. Then, while still in the recovery phase, he also had to deal with a groin injury last offseason that further threw a wrench in his development.
Showing steady signs of progress this past fall, however, Mitchell caught seven passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans, but he still appeared to lack the explosiveness that helped make him such a prized commodity coming out of high school.
But through it all, he always kept his head up.
"It was hard," Mitchell said, "but I knew that God had a plan for me."
And now, with spring practice set to start up on Tuesday afternoon, there's reason to believe that after a long wait, everything is finally coming together for Mitchell.
Finally 100 percent healthy and in the best shape of his Trojans' career, he was one of the stars of the team's volunteer throwing sessions this past January and February, regularly showcasing the burst in his step that had been missing.
"I can say that this is the best that I've felt since I've been here," Mitchell said late last week. "All of the coaches have been pushing us, and that's exactly what I needed."
In particular, Mitchell is quick to credit Trojans strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis and his staff.
"The conditioning workouts have been really helpful to me and to all of the guys over the past two months," said Mitchell, who currently weighs in at 190 pounds, after arriving at USC in the 178-pound range. "My breathing, my legs and my body are all feeling good."
With the departure of last season's leading receiver, Nelson Agholor, as well as George Farmer, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. will be looking for wideouts such as Mitchell to take on a greater role this spring. If the past two months are any indication, he's certainly up to the challenge.
"I'm definitely looking to make a statement," Mitchell said. "I'm going to come out hungry with a whole new attitude. I'm ready."