MISSION HILLS, Calif. — They'll talk about this one for a while.
Southern California prep football fans, both avid and recreational alike, have witnessed Steven Mitchell do some out-of-the-ordinary things on the gridiron recently. Seemingly everyone has their favorite play. Or memory, for that matter.
Spectators in attendance at last week's game, however, appear to agree on one thing: the highlight-reel worthy run delivered by the high-profile senior from Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) will not be forgotten any time soon.
In the second half of a close contest, Mitchell lined up in the backfield and received the ball on a pitch. He proceeded to run left, off-tackle, where the play was designed. A wall of defenders greeted him, but Mitchell had the wherewithal to stop on a dime and reverse field. From that point on, it was a race to the pylon in the opposite corner of the end zone.
No one was stopping Mitchell from scoring on that 9-yard run and it helped secure the Warriors' 49-42 victory over Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) in a CIF Southern Section Serra League opener for both programs.
"People tell me that play looked like something Reggie Bush did back in the day. I think it looked like something Steven Mitchell did back in the day,'' Mitchell said.
Was the effort rather remarkable? Yes, most definitely.
Was the effort somewhat surprising? No, not really.
Mitchell, after all, is one of the Golden State's premier players, fully capable of making a momentum-changing play when called upon to do so. As a result, the 5-foot-10 and 180-pound receiver and USC commit is recognized as one of the nation's most prized prospects.
"I've never been around a player like him, Steven is a threat to go the distance and score each time that he touches the ball, the spot on the field doesn't matter," Alemany coach Dean Herrington said. "He's done some special things with the football, things I've never seen before."
Mitchell will most likely be the difference between winning and losing this week for the Warriors (6-1 overall record), ranked No. 25 in the state by MaxPreps and No. 7 in the recent Southern California rankings
. They face Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) on Friday night in a key league game. The Lancers (5-0-1) are No. 10 in the state and No. 14 in the regional rankings.
The subplots to the upcoming showdown are many. All-important first place in league is at stake. Also, the winner improves its positioning for early November seeding in the Pac-5 Division playoffs, which figures to be one of the country's more competitive brackets.
"Everything is on the line for us this week and Bishop Amat is a good team," Mitchell said. "We have played some good football this season and are confident, but not overconfident. The goal for us is to stay focused. If we don't, we could lose and that is not an option.
"For me, on a personal level, nothing really changes. I play the same way no matter who the other team is. My mentality is, I'm taking the ball to the house on each play. I want to score a touchdown on every play that I get my hands on the ball, that's how you have to feel."
Mitchell ranks among Alemany's leaders in a number of different statistical categories on the offensive side of the ball. Punt and kickoff returns are among his other responsibilities. Given the fact he's far too talented to sit on the sidelines, he plays in the secondary as well.
Mitchell possesses a well-rounded skill set, though his development did not happen overnight. He has worked on his craft during a three-year stint as a starter for the Warriors. His tireless efforts have not gone unnoticed by numerous college coaches and scouts.
With scholarship offers on the table from more than 20 schools, and nearly every team from the Pac-12 Conference, there was considerable interested in Mitchell. Several top-notch programs from across the country, including Notre Dame and Oklahoma, were among his suitors.
Mitchell decided to stay close to home, though. He committed to the Trojans back in June in an effort to eliminate distractions and focus his efforts on helping Alemany.
"The commitment that I gave to USC is solid," Mitchell said.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and his staff of assistants figure to be pleased with that endorsement. Mitchell, himself, received an endorsement from MaxPreps/CBS Recruiting Expert Tom Lemming before the season started. The recruiting guru ranked him as country's No. 6 wingback.
Based on his proverbial resume, Mitchell is considered as the state's top player at his position. Regardless of the spot on the field, his name is mentioned in the same sentence as Su'a Cravens from Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.), Eddie Vanderdoes from Placer (Auburn, Calif.), Michael Hutchings from De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Max Redfield from Mission Viejo (Calif.). Interestingly enough, Mitchell will play with each individual in the aforementioned group next season at USC.
"Sometimes I catch myself watching all of the amazing things Steven does on the field, then I realize that we're still in the middle of a game," Warriors senior quarterback Devon Dunn
said. "Having a guy like him on your side makes my job easier. I'm glad we don't have to face him once a year like our opponents. When we need a big play, I'm getting the ball into the hands of No. 4."
So far, so good. The strategy has worked out particularly well.
One need not look any further than Mitchell's recent memorable play against Notre Dame for proof of his big-play potential, as well as his value to Alemany. Video of the run went viral immediately after the game ended. He has accordingly become an Internet sensation, of sorts.
"I hear the hype, yes, but I don't let the talk bother me," Mitchell said. "I have a job to do and that's to step out on the field, lead this team and keep people on their toes."
He's done just that. On the field against opponents, as well as off the field, with fans in the bleachers.
Sean Ceglinsky has covered prep and college sports in Southern California for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky