Linebacker C.J. Mizell was told he could play football the way coaches Paul Wulff and Chris Tormey wanted, or he could start over somewhere else.
PULLMAN — C.J. Mizell stood at a fork in the road.
The choice was his to make, but the road map had been drawn pretty clearly by Washington State coach Paul Wulff and new linebackers coach Chris Tormey.
The sophomore middle linebacker could rededicate himself to playing football the way Wulff and Tormey wanted, or he could start over somewhere else. He had to make a decision.
“At the end of spring, I felt disappointed with myself for the effort I brought,” Mizell said Wednesday after the Cougars’ fourth preseason practice. “I felt I had to regroup and go back to the basics and just get down and work hard for the team.”
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Spring football had just ended and Mizell, one of the bright spots of the defense down the stretch in 2010 but an unwilling practice participant his entire freshman season, had seen little action with the starting group.
Tormey, a 32-year coaching veteran, had come aboard before the spring workouts and immediately moved Mizell down the depth chart. He made it clear to anyone who listened the Cougars would be fine with Mike Ledgerwood at middle linebacker.
Anyone who didn’t want to work at practice wasn’t welcome, no matter how talented they were.
“He had to make some tough decisions about what he wanted to do with his life, whether he wanted to continue to be part of this program,” said Tormey. “Since then, he’s been on the right track most of the time since spring football got over with.”
According to teammates, Mizell’s decision began to show in the summer when he was religious in making the early morning workouts, something that hadn’t been in his repertoire previously.
“I’m trying to bring intensity to practice,” said Mizell, who is still backing up Ledgerwood, a senior who started four games last season. “I want to get my teammates turned up. When I turn them up, they start turning me up. So we’re just firing off each other out there.”
Mizell came to WSU last year from Tallahassee, Fla. Rated the fifth-best linebacker in the nation by Scout.com, he signed a letter of intent with Florida State. But when he originally failed to get a qualifying test score, the Seminoles asked him to go to a junior college. Instead, Mizell raised his score to the NCAA standard and headed West.
He started six games for WSU last season and made 57 tackles.
“I just have to know all my stuff or I’m not going to be on the field,” Mizell said.
There’s another motivating factor for Mizell, 20. Last Sunday he become a father.
The sight of little Ada Lee hit him hard. “There is a lot of growing up to (having a child), a maturity,” he said. “Now I’m playing for me and my family. That does have a lot to do with it.”