In a week of such unbosoming by major sports figures such as Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o, perhaps it was only fitting that Virginia 5-star commitment Taquan Mizzell could speak his mind.
The big-time running back out of Virginia Beach’s Bayside High School made headlines for all the wrong reasons after being arrested and charged with underage possession of alcohol during his official recruiting visit to Charlottesville last weekend.
While I don’t pretend to be Oprah or Katie, I thought it would be interesting to give Mizzell an opportunity to talk about his mistake. The 19-year-old, who goes by the nickname “Smoke,” presumably because he burns opposing defenses with regularity, was as eloquent with his words as he is with the pigskin when asked about the incident Friday night.
One thing for sure, Mizzell is as sorry as can be. He realizes he made a dumb mistake and swears it will never happen again. He has taken a lot of heat from outsiders, who he believes have mistakenly characterized him in the wrong light.
“I truly regret the whole situation,” Mizzell said in a telephone interview. “I embarrassed myself, my fans, supporters here at home, the Virginia coaching staff and the school itself. It was just a mistake. There was a lot going on at the time of the incident and I didn’t even get to talk to the [arresting] officer. It’s something I truly regret.”
The recruit was picked up downtown and charged with a misdemeanor. His court date is Monday at 10 a.m. in Charlottesville General District Court.
Certainly, Mizzell is not the first major UVa football recruit to have been caught in a similar circumstance. Ahmad Bradshaw (now with the NFL’s New York Giants) and Peter Lalich, both the school’s top prospects in their class, were hit with the same charge.
Mizzell said he just hopes that outsiders don’t stamp him as a problem kid.
“This doesn’t describe the real me,” Mizzell said. “I’m not that kind of person. I’m not a troublemaker. I’m a very humble guy who just doesn’t get into trouble. I hope people don’t judge me in a bad way.
“I’m not a drinker. I’ve never had this happen to me before,” the prospect added. “I had to face Coach [Mike] London and explain what went on and how I got put in a bad situation. I’m not blaming anyone else, but it was just a bad situation.”
Mizzell said he really was upset for bringing any ill publicity to Virginia’s football program, and particularly to London and Cavaliers recruiting coordinator Chip West, whom he developed a special bond with during his recruiting process.
“Coach London is one of the main reasons I came to Virginia, him and Coach West,” Mizzell said. “Talking to them about what happened was just like talking to my own family. They knew the kind of person I am.
“This whole thing has had a big impact on me,” said Mizzell, who was offered by tons of major football powers. “Once I got the chance to explain what happened, I felt it would clear up a lot of things. Everybody back home knows the kind of person I am, that I get mostly A’s in school, stay out of trouble, and focus on my goals.”
While the publicity was bad, Mizzell knew that his family was always on his side and that he believed his good reputation would remain intact because what he did was so out of character.
“When I came back to school I wondered if things would be different, but a lot of my supporters just wanted to know what happened,” Mizzell explained. “Once they heard, they were satisfied. They all know who I am. I even worked with a social worker at school because I was so worried about what others might think.”
Yes, the youngster took a beating in some circles. Some were quick to judge, but he also received a lot of positive reinforcement by Cavalier fans who encouraged him to just keep being himself.
“I wasn’t really too worried about my reputation back home because I have a strong support system and people know me, know who I really am,” Mizzell said. “At the end of the day, some people are going to judge you regardless.”
He learned a valuable lesson that lots of athletes seem to learn the hard way. In a way, he was glad he learned it sooner rather than later.
“I realize that I have to be smarter, make better choices and that everything I do as an athlete is going to be in the spotlight or under the microscope,” Mizzell said. “From now on, I have to stay focused on my goals. I’m representing the University of Virginia and what it stands for, not only just on the football field but in the classroom and in the community. I want to be a guy that UVa fans can proudly point to as a guy who got it right.”
Invited at the end of the conversation, if there was any one thing he would like to say to Wahoo fans, Mizzell didn’t hesitate.
“I want to thank Virginia fans for all the support they have shown me during this,” Mizzell said. “I just want to tell them that I won’t let them down.”