James Mitchell may have suffered a devastating injury just a season ago, but that's not stopping the former Tech standout tight end from pursuing a longtime NFL career.
Flash forward, the Big Stone Gap native has largely recovered from an ACL tear he sustained in the Hokies' win over Middle Tennessee back in September. And although the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder was limited at Virginia Tech's 2022 Pro Day, there still was plenty to take in from the potential future NFL playmaker.
How's the recovery gone? How does he look back on his career in Blacksburg? Mitchell spoke with the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss.
Q: What have the past couple of months been like for you training? What was today like for you?
A: So the last couple of months, you know, it’s been strictly rehabbing my knee and trying to get as far along as possible while I was in Florida. So I’ve got to a really good point. I’m back cutting, I’m doing routes, keeping it within a small radius but I’m back running. I’ve got my cleats on so I’m feeling pretty good. To be here, I benched and I put the numbers up I wanted to hit on that, and then mostly I’m just here supporting the guys, so I’m glad I could come out here and watch them and just support them anyway I could.
Q: Any setbacks? Everything kind of on target as far as rehab?
A: Yes, sir, everything is on target. I haven’t had any setbacks, my [physical therapy] down at the XL Center has been going good. You know, like I said I’ve been doing pretty much everything, just at a moderate pace. [I’m] not really full speed yet, but doing a lot more things so everything’s been good.
Q: As you get closer to the [NFL] draft are you able to expand what you do? Do you hope you’ll be able to meet with teams and be able to show on the field some stuff that you couldn’t obviously do now?
A: As far as that goes, I’m just kind of playing it by ear. It’s not really something that I can tell them 100% what I can do right now, because I don’t know how I’m going to feel. We’re just playing it by ear as far as that goes, and most teams have been understanding. You know, not to rush it because this was a serious injury.
Q: When you suffered the injury initially, how long did they [the doctors] give you [to recover]?
A: With that it varies player to player. I would say usually the timeline is like seven to nine [months]. So yesterday [Monday, March 21] was actually six months for me, so I’m on pace. I’m looking at April and I’ll be cleared to do a lot more stuff.
Q: And it was an ACL tear?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: When you have an injury like that is part of it just a matter of trusting it [the knee] and getting some of that trust back in it?
A: Yeah, 100%. Because really you can do all that stuff [football activities]. You can do all those things. That’s what my [physical therapist] stressed to me, you can do that stuff you just have to build that trust back in your knee and just go out there and do it, so that’s definitely a big part and something you just have to work on everyday.
Q: What was the [NFL] combine like for you?
A: It was a unique experience. It was kind of similar, as far as the drills, similar here. Just there supporting those guys, and you know, just being there around other top talent was fun. I was glad I got to experience it and get to meet the teams there.
Q: You always hear about the interview process with people [teams/scouts] peppering you with questions and stuff. What was that interview process like? Was there anything odd that people asked you or was it a normal process?
A: It was normal for the most part. I will say everything that I got I was prepared for. You know, you do a lot of interview prep prior to the combine, so I didn’t really get a question where I was stumbling on my words and like I didn't really know how to answer it, because they did a really good job preparing us.
Q: Do you sit back on your Virginia Tech career as kind of a bummer that it got cut short the way it did?
A: 100%, especially with the fans being back this year and with 2020 being a weird year. It definitely is a bummer, but you know, I know everything happens for a reason and I’m glad I was still just able to be around, so I’m thankful for that and thankful for my team.
Q: Mentally, ever since your injury, what have these past couple of months been like for you? How much better do you feel now, and obviously now you’re getting a lot closer to being back to full strength, what’s it been like mentally?
A: Mentally, like I said, I’m a whole lot better. You know, just being able to put my cleats back on is like it’s so relieving, like you don’t even know. But just being able to, you know, catch balls again, run routes again, do a little bit of cutting. That helps so much. There’s a dead period in there, that three or four month part, where you’re not really doing a whole lot. so that part’s hard. But now that I’ve been doing a lot more running, full speed, I feel a whole lot better.