June 19, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
When you watch Terrence Mitchell compete on the ultimate field, his speed, skill, and high-flying hops are obvious. When you talk with him, his confidence is just as apparent. Ever since he put a Raleigh Flyers jersey on, he’s believed that he can be a game-changing force.
That confidence shined bright even in his AUDL debut, as a 19-year-old rookie in 2015, though Flyers Head Coach Mike DeNardis would often try and rein in his occasional overly bold decisions with the disc. I remember chatting with DeNardis immediately after the franchise’s inaugural game against Atlanta, and there were certainly dueling messages in Mike’s mind. He knew this kid had limitless potential, while also realizing that some refinement would be necessary.
Over the past five seasons, Mitchell has definitely matured, recalibrating his decision-making and overall approach to become not just a mainstay on Raleigh’s O-line, but one of the most reliable and athletic cutters on the entire league. He’s been on the field for all but one of the 75 games in Flyers’ history, missing a 2018 contest at DC for his college graduation. And just like every other player in this two-week chapter of Disc In, Mitchell has yet to play an AUDL game as a 24-year-old; Terrence turned 24 last August after the Flyers season had ended.
In fact, none of the previously featured Top Scorers Under 25 have found the end zone more often than Mitchell, who has caught 173 goals in his 74 career games. (Note: Montreal’s Quentin Bonnaud has 174 goals if the All-Star Game is included, but sits at 170 for just regular season and playoff competition.) The reality is Mitchell has already accomplished more than many players have throughout their entire careers, and yet is still feels like he’s just getting started, with the potential to be among the league’s all-time greats as the next decade progresses.
His confident demeanor has also allowed him to overcome a couple tough moments that might have negatively impacted his career arc. Even before he joined the AUDL, Mitchell was part of one of the most thrilling international ultimate moments of the past decade, where he competed for the United States at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in 2014. On universe point of the gold medal game against Canada, Mitchell matched up with another 18-year-old stud in Darren Wu, who had already made his mark on the pro game with the Vancouver Riptide. In a play that will forever link the two of them, Wu skied over Mitchell for the wild game-winning grab that gave Canada the gold, leaving Mitchell to settle for the silver in heartbreaking fashion. Tears flowed in the aftermath, but Mitchell’s confidence did not waver as he continued to compete and seek to improve in the weeks and months ahead.
Now, opposing coaches are always weary about the impact that Mitchell can have, especially alongside the caliber of cutters that Raleigh possess around him on offense. After one game last year when the Flyers beat the Hustle, Atlanta Head Coach Miranda Knowles acknowledged, “Mitchell was the deep threat we couldn’t contain.” Obviously, her perspective was not a unique one, as Mitchell garnered acclaim from virtually every coach across the South Division over the course of the season. In the AUDL Tools Survey that asked coaches to award superlatives after the regular season ended, individual ballots nominated Mitchell for numerous categories, including Best-in-the-Air, top speed, top quickness, and and best buzzer-beater athlete. It certainly won’t be the last time that Mitchell receives consideration for these postseason plaudits.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of catching up with Mitchell for a wide-ranging conversation about his ultimate origin story, his early experiences with the Flyers, his memories of that Junior Worlds journey from 2014, and how his relationship with DeNardis has evolved over the last half-decade. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Firstly, how's everything going and what has life been like for you since mid-March? Any particular highlights from the past few months?
Terrence Mitchell: It’s been going good. My job, they just switched our hours around, so I’m working different hours. I’m trying to keep my workout routine. I try to work out every morning, and I don’t run every day, but whenever I have time to get out, I do. I’ve been trying to show my girlfriend how to play frisbee, teaching her how to throw and stuff.
EL: How active have you been in terms of maintaining your training since the pandemic began, and what types of things have you been doing to try and stay in ultimate shape? If the season started tomorrow, what percentage of the best version of yourself would you estimate you'd be?
TM: Oh, I’d be at 100 percent always! For the most part, I just wake up and do my stretching routine, make sure I get my pushups in, my situps and burpees and all that stuff in the morning. If I do go run, there are a few parks around, and I’ll go set up cones and do cone drills and sprints. I’d say I’d be 100 percent at least for the first half.
EL: What do you remember about trying out for the Flyers prior to the 2015 season when you were just 19 years old? Were you nervous about how you'd fare against the other top players? Would you say you expected to make the team for the inaugural 2015 season? Any special memories from the tryout experience or learning that you had made the team that still really stand out a half-decade later?
TM: I wasn’t really nervous because I had been playing against most of them for a decent amount of time. In 2014, I had tried out for the DC Breeze and I didn’t make it. I made it to the second tryout, but I think because I woulda been a travel player. I thought I did pretty well, but…In 2015, I wouldn’t say I expected to make it, but I felt like I had a pretty good chance to make it. Considering that I’d been playing with most of these [North Carolina] people for a while, and [Flyers Coach] Mike [Denardis] had already coached our [club] team, so it was like, alright, he knows what I can do, so I just gotta form everything right and make sure I do everything right. I definitely was the young guy. I’ve been the young guy on the team for a while now, but it’s good that I’m no longer the youngest person playing. It was definitely a different experience because everyone was older than me, so I had to just kinda adapt to new play styles and the way we were playing. I had played with [the Raleigh club team] Ring that year before the Flyers came around, so I felt like I had a good shot, but once we got through the process, I had to see the roster [to know that I made it.] I’d say the one thing that I was happiest about, though, was that I was on the gametime rosters every week, cause you know we had only 20 people that played and we had like 30 or 35 people, so just as long as I could make that 20.
EL: Before going further, can you quickly share your narrative about what sports you played growing up, how you discovered ultimate, and how long it took you to begin feeling fairly confident on the ultimate field?
TM: I played basketball and football. I ran track. I wrestled for like a semester; I don’t know why I did that. And I ran cross country for like a semester too. As far as elementary school up until high school, it was basketball and football. The last time I played football was my sophomore year, but maybe when I was in eighth grade going into ninth grade I found out about frisbee. I don’t know if you know Mr. Josh Greene, he was my neighbor, but Josh Greene was actually the one who introduced us [to the sport]. My friends and I were just playing basketball one day down the street, and Mr. Josh just came up with a frisbee and asked us if we wanted to play frisbee or toss it around, and we were like ‘yea, we play basketball every day, so yea we’ll give it a try.’ I ended up starting going to pickup with him, and after that the rest was just history.
I started to get good at it, and then I joined a team and a league and was getting even better, learning from everyone else who was playing. But it’s funny, part of why I really played frisbee is because my 11th grade year, I couldn’t play any [official] sports because my grades weren’t that good. I actually had to sit out. And frisbee was an unofficial sport, so they didn’t check my grades, so it was like, I’ll just keep doing this to stay in shape and I started getting good at it. So I was like, hold on, maybe I should stick with this.
EL: If I'm remembering correctly, I believe I first watched you play when you were a part of the USA Junior Worlds Team in 2014. What are your primary memories of that entire experience and competing with that team in Italy? And if you're willing, I'd be eager to hear your six-years-later recollections of the final point of that tournament. What types of things do you think about looking back at that last sequence and being so involved in such a close moment that clearly could have gone either way?
TM: It was a fun time. It was fun staying for a week in New York [for training camp] just hanging out with everybody and meeting all the different players from all over the country, and we all had this one goal in mind to go represent the USA for frisbee. We exercised a decent amount; I want to say we practiced two or three times a day. I definitely remember those practices. I don’t wanna say it was like, ‘oh man we gotta go out again,’ but it was definitely a lot of training before we went. It was fun though, all of it was fun. I enjoyed it all. After Worlds, I ended up staying [in Italy] for an extra week.
Looking back on that last point, I remember that I didn’t listen to what either [USA Coach] George [Stubbs] or Chase [Sparling-Beckley] had told me because we already knew [Team Canada] was gonna try and throw it deep to Darren [Wu], but I still bit hard on the under, and looking back on it, I still had a chance to make a play, and I didn’t. If I could do it again, to be honest, I might, I probably woulda fouled him. (Note: Mitchell was chuckling as he said this.) I might not have contested the foul, but I probably woulda fouled him. That was probably one of the only times in my life that I cried after losing a frisbee game cause I just knew that we were gonna win the whole thing and come back and it was gonna be a celebration. The way that we lost nagged on me. That was definitely not a good feeling. But I really don’t think about it too much. I almost had forgotten about it until a year or two ago when somebody brought it up on our team. I can’t remember who brought it up. It was either Justin [Allen] or [Matt] Bode or somebody that said something about it, because I think I might have made a play on them [in practice], and they brought that up, and I was just like, ‘what does that have to do with it? I just scored on you right now!’
EL: Have you ever talked to Darren Wu about that play since?
TM: I never have. I’ve never played against him since that play or played against him since then. One day, when my pride will let me do it, then I’ll probably talk to him about it.
EL: Obviously, no one in Flyers history has played in more AUDL games than you! Curious if there's a single game that stands out above the rest in terms of being a special personal memory for ya? Also, the only game that you missed was the same day as your college graduation. Was there ever any question whether you'd attend graduation or the game in DC? What do you recall from that day, with the meaningful graduating experience, and presumably following the Flyers' game from afar?
TM: A lot of games come to mind. Probably the 2015 season where we ended up making Championship Weekend, that [South Division title] game against Jacksonville when Travis Catron turned it over [when the Cannons were up by one in the final seconds], as soon as he turned it over I was like ‘yo, we’re about to win!’ We went to overtime, and I just knew we were gonna win. That was probably the biggest moment in the AUDL that I remember so far. He could have thrown it as high as he wanted to the sky or hucked it toward the end zone and time would have run out, but he didn’t, he did something crazy or it slipped out of his hands. And it was like, well, it happens.
I was going to graduation [on May 12, 2018 when the Flyers were playing at the Breeze], but I was actually still trying to go to the game in DC. I was trying to see if Mike could get me a flight to DC just for the one game. And he was just like, ‘nah, you can take this one off. You graduated. Enjoy it!’ And I was like, alright, but I definitely was trying to still go play. Once I figured out I wasn’t going to the DC game, my girlfriend and I ended up going to the beach. To be honest, I don’t think I watched the game. I was in graduation mode. [When I learned that we lost], I was like, see, that’s why I shoulda went because we woulda won. I coulda been the two-point, three-point difference-maker.
EL: Who were the players you most looked up to as mentors in your first couple seasons in the AUDL, and why?
TM: Ben Dieter, he was one of them cause of his discipline and his work and the way that he was just focused and would get us focused when we needed to be focused, it was just empowering and I liked that a lot. That definitely was a big part of my motivation. And also Justin [Allen] too. Justin was a baller, so I’m like I just want to make sure I can compete with Justin. As long as I can get open when I need to, Justin can throw it to me, or I could throw it to him. I just tried to be on the same page with Justin. He was one of my bigger influences.
EL: Having been coached by Mike DeNardis since joining the league, I'm curious if you can share your perspective about how he's helped you improve as a player over the past five years? Additionally, thinking about playing for him as a 19-year-old rookie or a 24-year-old veteran, how has your relationship with him as a coach evolved? Has he gotten tougher on ya or easier on ya over time?
TM: For starters, he’s definitely taught me to discipline myself with the frisbee and not take the first shot that I see. I definitely had a habit of as soon as I’d catch it, I’m looking to throw it deep and I’m gonna throw it deep if somebody’s cutting. I definitely broke that habit. Enough of being fussed at for making bad decisions started to make me make better decisions. So that was a big influence for me. And just the way he ran the team and organized the team, we always had a game plan or focus that we were trying to achieve. That was a good thing about Mike D too. And he’s a pretty fun guy unless he’s in dad coach mode or really fussy about something. Other than that, though, Mike D, that’s the man with a plan. He’s definitely gotten easier on me because when we first started, it was a lot of making sure I’m doing the right thing, making sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, and making sure I’m practicing the right concept. He’s definitely been a lot less strict the past few years compared to when I first started.
EL: Considering how you have mostly played O-line throughout your career, I'm wondering who have been the toughest defenders that you've had to deal with over the past five years, and why?
TM: If I had to pick somebody that gave me a hard time, probably Tim McAllister on our team. When we’re in practice, he’s pretty physical. But for the most part, I never really think about the defenders who are guarding me. I just think they’ll have a tougher time worrying about me than I do worrying about them. There’s never been one person in particular where I’m like alright, I hate that this guy’s on me. Most of the time, once they guard me, it’s like, ‘oh, ok, once I figure out what works, I’m gonna get open every time.’
EL: What was your first reaction to the offseason news about AUDL realignment, particularly with your division changing so significantly?
TM: I was actually hype about playing Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and DC this year. I wanted to play Dallas too; I always liked playing them because I know it’s gonna be competition and a fun game. I know, out of anybody, [the Roughnecks] are gonna give us a challenge.
EL: And lastly, aside from ultimate, what's something else about yourself--a hobby or passion or mindset--that's important to you?
TM: Having my daughter has definitely been a big one. It’s made me a lot more responsible and start to focus and take care of what I need to take care of. It’s definitely added a type of discipline to myself that I didn’t have before I had a baby. Now, I have to manage everything. And it’s a blessing to have a baby, especially now that she’s getting older and everything. That’s probably been one of the hugest factors or changes in my life that’s helped me grow.