PULLMAN -- Watching Signing Day unfold this past February, I remember exclaiming, “C.J. Mizell is going to be a Cougar!” Then I asked myself, Who is C.J. Mizell? Once I found out, the real question was, How did Paul Wulff and WSU land this guy? I had the opportunity to have those questions answered, and a good deal more, when I sat down for a conversation with the Cougs’ freshman linebacker.
When Mizell entered the room my first thought was, My goodness, this kid looks more like a defensive end. The Cougar linebacker is, after all, somewhere between 6-2 and 6-3, and weighs a solid 225 pounds.
Mizell, however, is surprisingly soft spoken for a man of his size. I told him the only thing I knew about Florida was that they had alligators, and he laughed.
“I am from Tallahassee so we don’t see much of them there,” said Mizell.
Sitting across the table from Mizell, I couldn’t help but think the alligators were lucky.
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MIZELL’S JOURNEY TO Pullman was unique, he had previously committed to Florida State. A highly touted prospect out of the Sunshine State – rated the No. 5 strongside linebacker in the nation by Scout.com in ’09, he had his choice of colleges -- he opted to play for Bobby Bowden and Florida State. The recruiting process, as one might expect, was pitched.
“It was a good experience, something anybody would have wanted to go through. It was great. It was something I had to do for myself to take myself to the next level,” said Mizell.
But his life took an unexpected turn when he failed to qualify academically. Later, his high school coach called the Cougs. And it took off from that one simple phone call.
“The coaches told me they wanted me to come out here, take a visit and I just flew out,” said Mizell. “I told my friends they had offered and they told me to come out and take a look at it, that I might like it. And I did. And that is how I got here.”
FLORIDA AND THE Palouse aren’t a lot alike. Mizell, however, grew up in a small town slightly bigger than Pullman.
“It wasn’t really a shock. I mean my hometown was just a little bit bigger than this in Georgia. I am used to sitting like this, in a laid back city… It was crazy, because I had never flown before. It was my first time flying. It was a nine hour flight…Everyone told me it was going to be cold so I had brought lots of warm clothes. But it was weird because it was cold, but at the same time it wasn’t that cold. It surprised me.”
Over the past year, Mizell has been spending his time getting ready to play football again. But he was quick to point out while he thought summer workouts were going to be hard at WSU, he was not expecting them to be as hard as they turned out to be.
While leaving home and flying to the opposite end of the country was a journey in itself, Mizell has seamlessly transitioned into the Cougar family.
“They are all really ready to hit the field and play and do something big. That is how everybody feels right now. That is what everyone is expecting , everyone on the whole team.”
MIZELL SEEMS TO have the bite to go with his bark. Since starting the summer bridge program, he’s had the opportunity to take part in summer workouts with his teammates and start learning the system. I asked him who the opposing teams should fear the most when playing the Cougs.
“Me,” he laughed. “I mean I haven’t seen anyone else in pads. We have just been lifting weights and doing skelly. I love to hit. So until I see the others in pads, I would say me. ”
As for individual goals, he’s keeping it simple.
“I just want to go to school and get my grades, get on the pads and hit the field. I just want to get on the field this year and do good,” said Mizell.
FALL CAMP HAS yet to begin, but Mizell doesn’t have much free time. He spends the majority of his day working out, studying and going to summer school. In fact, right after this interview he was headed to the Rec Center to get in additional reps. He isn’t worried about being prepared to play football though.
“Since I was little, my daddy told me you have to be one person on the field, and one person off the field. When I start walking on the field, it is like a light switch goes off and you’re ready to go,” he says.
After spending some time with him, I can’t wait to see Mizell flip the switch either.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Robinson is freelance writer and second generation Washington State alum. Mike and his family returned to Pullman from Spokane in August of 2009 when his wife accepted a teaching position at the university. Mike has been a proud Cougar fan watching games from Section 26 for over 20 years. Look for more from Mike on CF.C when fall camp kicks off this Sunday, Aug. 8.