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August 25, 2011Vick Ballard and Charles Mitchell took very different roads to get where they are now and each did it in with a unique style.
As of Tuesday, the two seniors are the captains of the Mississippi State football team for 2011.
The players voted them into the spots, and head coach Dan Mullen said it is one thing they have in common that got them there.
"You'd have a hard time finding two harder workers than Charles Mitchell and Vick Ballard," Mullen said.
That may be where the similarities end, though.
Ballard, a running back, spent his whole career being overlooked. He had no SEC offers out of high school, so he went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. There, Ballard became an All-American running back. That performance was only enough to earn him one SEC offer, but luckily for Ballard, one was all he needed. In his first season at MSU, the tailback set a school-record with 19 rushing touchdowns and took the SEC by storm.
Mitchell, a safety, has a bit of a different story. The Clarksdale, Miss., native was the Gatorade player of the Year in Mississippi as a senior in high school. He was named to the Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen. He played in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game. Mitchell earned scholarship offers from such historic programs as Nebraska, Michigan and Alabama, in addition to the two big in-state schools, MSU and Ole Miss. He was anything but overlooked.
But now, Mitchell and Ballard are the leaders of their team, no matter how they got there.
Said Mullen, "Yeah, I bet people look back at that now and would like to have both of them on their team."
For Ballard, it was a quick transition. One year ago at this time, he was still wrapping his head around the offense. One year later, Ballard says he is more comfortable both as a player and a leader.
"It means a lot," Ballard said of being voted team captain. "It means the team looks up to me. It kind of makes me feel good because I've been here just a short amount of time. To be given that much respect means a lot to me."
Mitchell said one of the first things he did after being elected was to call his mama. He said his parents were always competitive and that his mother knew he would inherit that, too. Mitchell said it must just be in his blood.
"Luckily enough I work hard and try to lead the guys, try to get real, real close to the guys, and I'm thankful that they elected me and Vick as captains," Mitchell said. "It's just a great honor to be a part of it."
Both Ballard and Mitchell acknowledge they have different styles as captains, as well.
Ballard is a quiet leader, not because he's shy, but because he is all about work and business.
"I try to lead by example," Ballard said. "But whenever I do talk, people listen. I think they just buy into whatever I say."
Running backs coach Greg Knox said that attitude is one that rubs off on the rest of his team.
"He's a worker," Knox said. "When you work around a lot of people, people notice. Our team noticed how hard he worked and they respect that and that's why he was voted captain."
Mitchell, on the other hand, is not afraid to talk, though he admits to being more reserved earlier in his career.
"I've come a long way as far as playing time and maturing and just playing time on the field," Mitchell said. "As a leader, when I first got here I was real quiet. Now I'm a lot more vocal on the field."
In an odd coincidence, this isn't Mitchell's first time to be a captain at MSU. In his freshman season, Sylvester Croom's last as head coach, the team had a different offensive, defensive and special teams captain every week based on who performed the best in the previous game.
Mitchell was named captain of special teams for one week following a strong performance against Alabama.
"That was the first time I got team captain and it was fun, then coach Mullen came around and it was all seniors," Mitchell said. "I've just been waiting for my opportunity to get another chance at it."
He got that opportunity, of course, and Mullen said it couldn't have gone to anyone better, someone he has said on multiple occasions might just be the best football player on the team.
"Just his attitude, his preparation for games, his work ethic on the practice field," Mullen said. "How he trains, practices, prepares. You watch him on film and he follows through with it. He might not be the flashiest player in the world, but when you go and look at the grades, he's always grading out. He always does his job. He's always where he's supposed to be, making the plays he's supposed to make. If we can get all our guys to play on that level, we'll be in good shape."