Former Science Hill wideouts Ryan Mitchell and Greyson Janeway received some love from their college coaches this week.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 190-pound junior, has a team-leading eight touchdowns for Tennessee State, which visits Eastern Illlinois today in the FCS quarterfinals.
Janeway, a 6-0, 186-pound senior, was second on the team with 39 receptions this season at Centre College, an NCAA Division III school in Danville, Ky.
Mitchell caught two touchdown passes in the Tigers’ first-round playoff win last week at Butler. Not bad for a third-year player whose career prior to 2013 had consisted of 13 tackles on special teams.
“I think the first hurdle he’s overcome is coming in as a preferred walk-on,” Tennessee State offensive coordinator Mike Jones said. “And now, as you see, he’s a starter on offense and I know he leads the team in touchdowns. So I have to take my hat off to him, because he came in here and has done some things that I don’t think walk-ons have done up to this point.
“He’s surely worked hard and you’ve seen a change in his body. You’ve seen him get stronger and faster and it’s paying off for him right here in his third year. I’ve seen him grow for three years and become more determined every year. … He became one of our starters through his determination.”
Mitchell splits wide with two tight ends in the game, but his default setting is in the slot, where he’s as likely to deliver a blow as receive one. Hearing Jones describe his toughness evoked images of Mitchell, who is more long framed than squatty, being all but impossible to get on the ground at times with multiple tacklers tugging at him when he was a Hilltopper.
“He has a mental toughness about himself — sort of that never-give-up type of mentality,” Jones said. “He’s surely displayed that, especially this year. … He brings a physical side when you talk about the run game with his blocking. So we’ve gotta have him out on the field, because he does a great job of blocking defenders.”
Mitchell is second among Tigers with 29 receptions for a team-leading 556 yards.
Tennessee State tradition includes former players such as Richard Dent, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Joe Gilliam and Claude Humphrey, who spent time in Johnson City when the Atlanta Falcons trained at East Tennessee State. The alumni are enjoying autumns these days.
“I think they were excited last year when we were 8-3 and I think this year’s even better for us here,” Jones said. “You’ve got a lot of people that’s just enjoying what we’re doing and happy about our season and the continuation of our season. … Just in Indianapolis this past weekend we had a big following there.”
And they saw Mitchell make two TD catches.
“We’re happy here at Tennessee State to have Mitchell here and doing what he’s doing,” Jones said. “One thing I’ve always talked to him about is going out every day and working harder than anybody else and letting that hard work determine where you are and where you’re going. He’s done a great job of doing that.
“And I think that his background just coming from up there in Johnson City has helped put him in this situation. He’s taken advantage of everything he’s done up to this point, and we want more out of him in these next weeks to go.”
The Tigers will have to pull the upset to advance past Eastern Illinois today. The No. 2-seeded Panthers spoiled Tennessee State’s homecoming with a 34-16 victory at LP Field in Nashville on Oct. 26.
Janeway nearly got Centre to the D-III playoffs. He caught a 3-yard TD pass in overtime but the two-point conversion run failed in a heartbreaking 28-27 loss at Millsaps College in the ninth game of the season.
Centre ended up 7-3. It went to the playoffs for the first time in 90 years in 2011 when Janeway was a sophomore.
“Greyson played on our NCAA quarterfinals team. He played a lot, was a good returner,” said Centre head coach Andy Frye, who completed his 16th season as head coach this year. “And then the last two years he’s been a starter. This year’s team, gosh, I think offensively we probably set four team records in total yardage and points scored, and Greyson was obviously part of that.”
Janeway was at his best in week two this season. He had nine receptions for 108 yards in a 27-17 win at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I thought that was a great coming out game for him this year,” Frye said. “It not only built on his confidence as a wide receiver, but it certainly helped us win that football game. I mean, he made some big catches in that game. … He caught the ball well. He had YAC yards after he caught it.”
Janeway’s father Hal was at quarterback at Daniel Boone that went on to Austin Peay when Science Hill Hall of Famer Emory Hale was the coach before transferring to East Tennessee State.
Hal’s uncle, Bobby Scott, played quarterback at Tennessee and spent 10 years with the New Orleans Saints before playing a year in the USFL. Greyson’s brother, Grant, is a freshman at Carson-Newman.
“Greyson really matured as a football player, not only physically and athletically, but really moreso as a leader,” Frye said. “I mean, he developed followers because he cared about people, cared about the football team and epitomized, really, a lot of what we’re trying to get done as a football program as to what you want your players to do and to be. Greyson is a great ambassador for Centre football, and because of that, I think that’s why we’ve had so much success the past four years.”
Janeway’s quarterback at Centre was Sullivan South alumnus Heath Haden. The 6-foot-1, 184-pound junior was all-conference this season after leading Centre to a 7-3 record. He passed for 2,544 yards and 13 TDs and rushed for 511 yards and four TDs.
“Heath’s got two things,” Frye said. “He’s got really good speed for a quarterback. So he can beat you with his feet. But he really does have a really strong arm ... and he’s an accurate thrower.”