Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. is off to a solid start for USC, with 13 receptions -- No. 2 on the team -- for 126 yards and four touchdowns through the first four games. Considering he caught a total of just seven passes in all of 2014, it’s clear that his role within the offense has increased dramatically, but with a desire to do much more, he says that this is just a taste of what is yet to come.
"I can confidently say that you haven’t seen anything yet," Mitchell said.
There is plenty of reason to believe him. Having fought his way back from a knee injury that forced him to miss the 2013 season, as well as a subsequent hernia, Mitchell had a stellar spring and has carried that same level of play into the fall. Providing glimpses in games of the same big-play ability and sure hands that he showcased as a highly touted recruit coming out of Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, he has also proven to be a well-rounded player.
That was evident in the Trojans' win against Arizona State when he showed off some improved blocking, wiping out a Sun Devils defender deep down the field in the first quarter to help spring Adoree' Jackson on the last leg of his 80-yard touchdown reception.
"That’s definitely an area that I’ve worked on," said Mitchell, who stands 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. "Coming into the spring I told myself that I wanted to gain some weight, and I gained 10 pounds, and I’ve kept it on. I’ve actually gained another three, so I’m feeling stronger, and that’s boosting my confidence. It’s making me go in there and want to hit somebody."
The added size and physicality has made it possible for Mitchell, normally the starting slot receiver, to also spend some time on the outside this season -- a move that periodically allows JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jackson and Mitchell to all be on the field at the same time.
"That’s a new experience, but it’s definitely fun," Mitchell said. "I just want to be on the field as much as I can, and to help my team out as much as I can."
Mitchell’s ever-expanding skill set has made the USC wide receiver corps that much stronger. The collection of talent is headlined by Smith-Schuster (the team-leader in receptions with 27) and includes Darreus Rogers, Jalen Greene, De'Quan Hampton, Isaac Whitney, Deontay Burnett and Jackson (a three-way performer). They are a driving force behind the Pac-12’s No. 1 ranked offensive attack (532 yards per game).
"We have a very dangerous group, and when we’re all on the same page and we’re executing, we’re very hard to stop,” Mitchell said. "It’s kind of scary because we have so much talent, and we just need to know how to use it correctly."
The unit faces a stiff test Thursday night against a Washington team that features the Pac-12’s No. 1 ranked total defense (321 yards allowed per game), but it’s a challenge Mitchell is excited to take on.
"Their defense is very good, one of the best in the Pac-12," Mitchell said. "They haven’t given up too many passing yards and whatnot. It should be a really fun experience, and we’re going to have to come out swinging. I definitely look forward to the challenge. I wish we could go up against the best defenses every week."
With the status of Rogers -- normally a starter on the outside -- uncertain because of a hamstring injury, Mitchell could take on a larger role against the Huskies.
"I’m ready for it," Mitchell said. "I’m telling D-Rog that I’m holding it down for him while he’s gone."
Whether it’s against Washington this week, or in another game, Mitchell is confident it’s just a matter of time before everyone starts hearing his name called more and more.
"I’ve still got a lot in the tank," Mitchell said. "There’s a lot more ball to play."