Although the coronavirus pandemic has the world on pause, college football is preparing for the season ahead.
USF football’s newest tight end, a grad transfer from Northern Illinois, Mitchell Brinkman has begun his first season in a less than ideal way.
It started with his unusual recruitment.
The process of being recruited during the pandemic was not the perfect paradigm, according to Brinkman.
“The whole process was not ideal and it was completely hectic,” Brinkman said to the Oracle via Zoom. “I went to the portal on Monday at 3:30 [p.m.] and got the email. And then by 4 o’clock I had my first phone call. I don’t think my phone left my hand for the next 24 hours. It was just nonstop call after call from different schools and different coaches. It was different because all these coaches said [they would] love to have [me] on a visit, but obviously we can’t.”
In the meantime, Brinkman has been training in his garage weight room.
“[My roommate and I] definitely have all we need as far as lifting goes,” Brinkman said. “We have two weightlifting platforms, 700 pounds of weight and a vertimax row machine.”
As a child, Brinkman dreamed of playing in the NFL, as he was immersed in football from a young age. His father was a linebacker for Northern Iowa.
“Growing up I’ve always wanted to be an NFL football player,” Brinkman said. “I’ve had the luxury of both my parents being college athletes. I grew up loving football, going to football games and traveling all over the country to watch different teams.”
“I have an older brother who’s two years older than me,” Brinkman said. “Our spot was just right outside of the school. There’s a field where we would go if we weren’t in our own backyard playing sports. Other than those things, just like any other kid playing video games.”
Brinkman stuck close to his home of Council Bluffs, Iowa, committing to NIU in 2016 as a tight end, despite his experience in both offense and defense in high school.
“There’s nothing like scoring a touchdown so I opted for going to the offense,” Brinkman said.
In 2018, he missed the first four games of the season with a foot injury. However, by taking a step back to recover he was able to observe the game from a different perspective.
“I came back really fast and aggravated the injury which was difficult for me because the second I got cleared, I just wanted to keep moving,” Brinkman said. “It was tough, but I learned a different aspect of the game [by] watching my teammates playing and accepting a different role on game day.”
That season he went back and forth between the bench and playing time. After sitting out four games, he briefly returned to play Eastern Michigan on Sept. 9 and sat out the next three.
After what seemed like a back and forth switch between bench and field, he returned to play in the 2018 MAC Championship game against Buffalo where he set up the game-winning touchdown.
With NIU down by five at Buffalo’s 30-yard line, Brinkman made the first 11-yard reception of the drive to bring the Huskies to a 1st down. With 1:09 left on the clock, Brinkman’s teammate D.J. Brown made a 35-yard touchdown reception putting NIU ahead 30-29.
“That was the year I opted to redshirt due to injury so I only played four games
“It was definitely a lot of fun playing in Ford Field. It was a great experience. Coming back from down 29 to 10. There’s nothing really like it.”
After 2018 gave the impression it would be his most noteworthy season, he proved himself wrong in 2019 with 34 receptions, for 445 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Statistically, it was his best season yet.
“I thought [my best season] was gonna be 2018,” Brinkman said. “But we had a new coaching staff come in and I have a lot of respect and great relationships with [everyone] on staff. I feel like they did a great job of always talking about exploiting your strengths. I feel like that’s what they ultimately did this past season.”
Now in his last year of eligibility, Brinkman is not only focused on his athletic career but also his academics. Pursuing an MBA, Brinkman was able to speak with Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly on future opportunities Tampa may offer him outside of football.
“We had a meeting with Mr. Kelly, coach [Jeff] Scott, coach [Charlie] Weis [Jr.] and coach [Joey] King,” Brinkman said. “They laid it out for me, the different opportunities that Tampa offers and all the connections he has. It was a pretty easy position after talking to him.”
With Jeff Scott being named new head coach in December and USF’s high schedule strength which ESPN’s Phil Steele ranked No. 2 in FBS, Brinkman is looking forward to being a part of the program.
“Definitely feel a lot of excitement in Tampa,” Brinkman said. “I just know that I’m excited to get down there and you help out the program the best way I can whether that’s on the field, leadership, in the locker room or off the field.”
There have been comparisons between Brinkman and former USF tight end, Mitchell Wilcox. Both have the same first name and are sharing the same number, 89. Once fans started to make the comparison on social media, Wilcox reached out to Brinkman.
“He actually messaged me to wish me the best of luck, which I thought was pretty sweet.”
In order to stand out, Brinkman said he will continue to use the drive he finds within himself.
“I’m just going to come in and play the same I played and have a different name on the back of my jersey,” Brinkman said. “A lot of my inspiration comes internally.”