NEW HAVEN — A year ago, Jackson Mitchell shared the stage with his future college teammates Kevon Jones and Travis Jones at the Walter Camp Football Foundation Breakfast of Champions. Mitchell returned to the Omni Hotel as one of the headliners on the organization’s All-Connecticut team on Saturday morning in the final act of his high school football career.

Mitchell, who also earned first team all-state honors from the New Haven Register, Connecticut High School Coaches Association and was the defensive player of the year on USA Today’s All-Connecticut squad, would love nothing more than to see immediate action as a true freshman just like Kevon and Travis Jones did for the Huskies when they combined for 98 tackles including 111/2 tackles for loss.

“It is always fun when you get an opportunity to play early, so if I can linebacker, that would be great but just to be on the field with special teams and just to help the team win is exciting,” Mitchell said.

The opportunity for immediate playing time certainly exists at UConn, a program coming off a nightmarish season on defense when the Huskies ranked last nationally in nearly every major defensive category.

Santana Sterling, who led all UConn linebackers with 80 tackles during the 2018 season, is graduating and upgrading the speed and athleticism at the linebacker position is a priority for UConn coach Randy Edsall and his staff. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Mitchell is a key member of the incoming freshman class who is planning to arrive on campus in June.

“This kid really impressed us at the summer camp,” Edsall said last month when discussing the players who signed with UConn. “This was a young man who impressed us from the time he came to the camp. He is just a worker. He is bigger now, he works. You see that he loves the game, loves to compete, a great family. We are really excited about him, he has a lot of growth potential as well.”

Mitchell earned All-State honors as a receiver following his junior season at Ridgefield High School after catching 80 passes for 1,113 yards and 13 touchdowns leading to speculation that he may project to play either receiver or tight end for the Huskies. While Mitchell led Ridgefield with 36 receptions as a senior, he opened more eyes on the other side of the ball. Mitchell had 91/2 sacks with 51/2 coming in games against Class LL champion Greenwich, Class M champion St. Joseph and fellow 2018 playoff team Darien.

“I’ve always liked defense, I’ve become good at offense more in high school but I’ve always liked defense the most,” Mitchell said.

Six of UConn’s top nine returning tacklers are Connecticut natives. Mitchell and Bloomfield native Dillon Harris, a fellow linebacker who played at Lackawanna College in the last two seasons, will have a chance to give the 2019 defensive squad even more of a local flavor.

“High school is fun but I am excited to get onto a new level, new competition,” Mitchell said.

“I talk to them [the UConn coaches] a lot. Whenever it is an open period, they will come down to the school and say hi and check up on me. I am texting them and calling them a lot. We are talking, we are excited to get to school and get this program turned around. I think we are pretty close, I think we have the right guys and guys who are looking forward to being in that position and getting it back to where it was.”

Mitchell will be working with UConn linebacker coach Jon Wholley who worked with star linebackers Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson, Sio Moore, Yawin Smallwood, Jory Johnson during his first stint at UConn. There will be new faces at a couple of other positions. A new defensive coordinator could be announced by the school this week while Matt King was named as the football program’s new strength coach on Friday.

“I’ve been talking to them, excited to get to know them,” Mitchell said. “They’ll give me a workout from their strength coach, just eating right, getting in the weight room, getting on the field and working so I can help them when I get there.

I talked to Coach [Edsall], he said he is a really good guy and he is going to get the team to where it needs to be.”


UConn added another defensive player to current recruiting class as former East Carolina pledge Jeff Woods announced his commitment to the Huskies on his Twitter account on Saturday.

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Woods had seven sacks to lead Trinity Christian out of Fayetteville, N.C. to a 9-1 record and spot in the NCISAA Division I playoffs as a senior.

Adding some size to the defensive line was a priority for the UConn staff as Woods becomes the fourth defensive lineman to commit to the Huskies joining Columbia graduate transfer Michael Hinton and high school prospects Eric Watts, Justin Moore and Woods who all stand between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5.

james.fuller; @NHRJimFuller