By TOM SALADINO
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (Oct. 27, AP) — For a youngster who started out playing little league football as a punter-turned-snapper, Georgia Tech sophomore Ross Mitchell has come a long way.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder from South Gwinnett High gets his first start Saturday, replacing the injured Matt Uremovich at middle linebacker when the No. 7 Yellow Jackets play Atlantic Coast Conference foe North Carolina State.
“It’s like it’s been the last five or six weeks,” said Mitchell. “It’s been a situation all year that we’ve had little nicks and bruises, and if anybody goes down we’ve needed somebody to step up, so you’ve got to be ready.”
Mitchell, who will also handle defensive signal calling, has seen plenty of action this year as Uremovich’s backup, as the snapper on field goals and extra points, and as a member of other special-team units.
Coach George O’Leary doesn’t anticipate any problems with Mitchell handling the defensive signals, even though he has never started in college.
“He’s a dean list student,” O’Leary said Wednesday. “He’ll be fine. He’s played a bunch. Matt has been the starter, but Ross has played probably a third of the time and in a lot of different situations. I’m very confident in him.”
As a freshman last season, Mitchell played primarily on special teams, was a snapper in 11 games and had 12 tackles. In six games this season, he’s had six tackles.
The 20-year-old, an honor graduate from South Gwinnett with a 3.75 grade-point average, turned down appointments to the Naval Academy and West Point for a scholarship at Tech.
When he began playing football, he was a punter.
“But we never had anybody who could snap it to me, so I turned into the snapper,” he said. “That’s a great way to get into college. It really helped me.”
Mitchell was voted all-county three seasons in a row in high school and had 110 tackles with nine sacks as a senior.
Uremovich, who led Tech in tackles with 41 in only four games, was ruled out for the season Tuesday because of a bruise on his spinal cord.
Tech’s defense, which starts four freshmen and four sophomores, ranks seventh in the ACC, allowing 376.67 yards a game.
“You’re taking the leading tackler off the field from an already young defense,” said O’Leary. “You can react two ways. One, you can say (Uremovich is) not there. Or the other way, everybody else needs to gear up and make up for that loss.”
Mitchell believes he and the defense are up to the challenge.
“We can do it,” he said. “We’re a better team than we have showed. We know our teammates on offense expect more out of us and we’re not giving them what they deserve. We realize we’re not doing our share and we’ve got to step up to the plate now.”
The Yellow Jackets (6-1, 3-1) lead the nation in total offense with 516.5 yards a game and are fifth in scoring at 40.5 points per game.