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Valencia's Darrol Mitchell: The life of the party

It’s not just the sacks that helps Valencia, it’s Darrol Mitchell’s personality

Posted: December 3, 2009 10:39 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2009 10:37 p.m.

Can a handshake, nicknames and a song help a team achieve success?

Some people might say so.

Others look at statistics and say that helps a team achieve success.

They look at a number, like 22.

That’s the number of sacks Vikings defensive end Darrol Mitchell has this season, two shy of the school record.

But Mitchell’s true value might be measured in what he does to help ease the minds of his teammates.

“In football, you’re supposed to have fun. You don’t want it to be too serious. That’s the only way you can have success when you have fun. Darrol incorporates that,” says senior cornerback Jabari Howard.

Howard and Mitchell are Valencia’s singing duo.

After some team meetings this season, Valencia head coach Larry Muir has asked the pair to “take us home.”

They’ve done so by singing a light-hearted version of a song from the movie “Dreamgirls.”

“I like to crack jokes, make the team laugh and at the same time motivate players, challenge players,” Mitchell says. “I like to see everyone as friends so it brings us together since we spend so much time together. It doesn’t work unless we’re all part of a family.”

One way Mitchell tries to bring his teammates together is by handshakes.

He makes different handshakes for different players.

There’s “Baby Oil Down” for Howard.

Mitchell explains: “We like to stay smooth in everything, so I wipe my hand across my hairline like I got a new haircut and then I act like I’ve got some grease on my hand and flick it at Jabari and say ‘Baby Oil Down.’”

The handshakes are motivational reminders.

“Baby Oil Down” reminds them to stay focused and keep their composure.

“Yap-yap” with fellow defensive lineman Ryan Wermich reminds them to break through the offensive line and keep the motor running.

“Cocoa Butter Kids” with defensive back/wide receiver Brock Vereen reminds them to stay fast.

They’re silly names, but effective.

Mitchell, for one, has been motivated all season.

The bitter sting of losing in last season’s CIF-Southern Section Northern Division semifinal to Moorpark, who Valencia plays Saturday at 7 p.m. at Valencia, has stuck with Mitchell.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound senior says there may have been a lack of confidence going into last season’s loss to Moorpark.

That mentality would change this year.

Mitchell has led on the defensive line — a defensive line he helped coin “Unsqueezeable” because no one will get by them.

He is two sacks away from tying Anthony Defilippo’s school record of 24, set in 2004 — the last time the Vikings made a CIF-SS division title game.

But Mitchell is doing it in a much different way.

The 2004 Vikings team blitzed often, whereas this one doesn’t.

Mitchell has taken a more workmanlike approach to getting his numbers.

“He does a good job at being persistent,” Muir says. “I think his first couple of steps are very good — explosive. He’s gotten better at technique and using his hands.”

Mitchell credits some of the improvement to Valencia assistant coach Dave Padilla.

“I know I can lean on him to calm me down and keep my head on straight,” Mitchell says. “It’s as if I am a boxer and he is my personal trainer, waiting for me ringside after every round. He has always and will always have my back.”

Not that Mitchell wasn’t a force last season.

He tallied 9.5 sacks to lead the Vikings in 2008.

“I don’t really focus on how many sacks I’m going to get,” Mitchell says.

Instead, he focuses on bringing his teammates together.

He sees them as an extension of his family.

Mitchell, his sister, mother and father eat dinner together, go on vacations together and are close.

It’s becoming more and more of a rarity in today’s American society.

“He has an outgoing personality,” says his father, Art. “He tells you what he’s thinking. That’s his personality.”

Art gives an example of what kind of person his son is.

When Mitchell was in elementary school, he and his sister were to perform in a talent show at the day care center they attended.

Mitchell was 8 years old, his sister, Dana, was 4 years old.

Art remembers people chanting his son’s name because even at that age he was full of personality.

He was going to come on as Michael Jackson, Dana was going to be Janet Jackson.

Mitchell started the performance, then Dana walked out on stage and froze.

Mitchell walked over, hugged his sister and gently walked her off the stage.

It’s an example of the care he has for his family.

Just like the care he has for his football family.



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