June 07, 2011
Mitch Mustain was once the best high school football player in the country — voted the Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine National Player of the Year in 2005 after leading Springdale High in Arkansas to a 14-0 season and a state championship. The quarterback certainly never expected that five total seasons in two of the NCAA's biggest and most successful programs would lead him to a pro career in Canada instead of the NFL, but that's where things stand now.
Recruited by Arkansas, Mustain played well enough as a true freshman to see the Razorbacks go 8-0 in the games he started. The stats didn't quite match up (69 of 132 for 894 yards, 10 touchdowns, and nine interceptions), but something was happening, and it was pretty impressive. Mustain transferred to USC after that 2006 season after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn — Mustain's high school coach -- departed for the Tulsa staff, and the road that led him to his role as the offensive coordinator of the national champion Auburn Tigers.
After sitting out his 2007 season under NCAA transfer rules, Mustain threw just 16 total passes as a sophomore backup for the Trojans. And as the Trojans moved from Mark Sanchez(notes) to Matt Barkley, Mustain could never punch through the glass ceiling, and finished his USC career with 52 completions in 89 attempts, three touchdowns and three interceptions. There was some talk about his transferring away from USC to get a chance elsewhere, but in the end, the former high school stud simply flamed out.
Mustain decided to stay at USC because in a pro-style offense, he thought he'd be more attractive to NFL teams. Though he received several calls from other NCAA programs when the USC program was hit with sanctions, Mustain decided to stay put. "You've got to be able to get on the board in front of GMs and coaches come January, February and March and explain what you're doing, explain protections, that you understand where the O-line is going, that you can command an offense," Mustain told ESPN Los Angeles. "I feel like this is the best place to learn that."
But he never got the chance to talk to those GMs and coaches in an official capacity; Mustain didn't get an invite to the scouting combine, which may have had something to do with the fact that he was arrested in early February for suspicion of selling prescription drugs. It turned out that what he sold to an undercover police officer was not considered a controlled substance by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, and Mustain was placed in a pre-file diversion program. "I'm not a problem child," Mustain told the Sports Xchange at the time. "It sucks. I wish I hadn't done it. But I did. I don't feel my character is an issue. It was an isolated incident."
Mustain did get to work out at USC's pro day in April, but went undrafted, and he's now trying to make an impact on a professional roster — in Canada. The former No. 1 high school prospect is attempting to stick with the Hamilton (Ontario) Tiger-Cats, with whom he recently signed a contract.
It's a precipitous fall, but there is one good side to Mustain's potential CFL adventure. Instead of waiting out the lockout like all the NFL rookies, Mustain will get to play football through his new team's rookie camp, and hopefully into the season. And maybe, after a college career that went very wrong, he can finally get a shot.
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