As a defensive lineman at Rock Hill High School, Mitchell Jeter had more than one encounter with a football player named Jadeveon Clowney.
Then a budding superstar at rival South Pointe High, Clowney would occasionally play running back for the Stallions.
"It was my job to hit him," said Jeter, now a junior at The Citadel. "But it would usually turn into a group tackle. Somebody would hit his legs, somebody would hit him high. It took more than one guy to bring him down."
While Clowney now plies his trade as a defensive end/linebacker in the NFL, Jeter is still working to perfect the art of the tackle with the Bulldogs. And if his performance in the Bulldogs' spring game and in fall practice are any indication, the 6-0, 280-pounder could be poised for a breakout season.
Jeter started only five games last year and finished with 37 tackles, 3½ for loss and 1½ sacks. But with All-Southern Conference defensive tackle Derek Douglas gone, Jeter should breeze past those numbers in 2014.
"Our guys have a real hard time with his quickness and explosiveness," said first-year Citadel coach Mike Houston. "Mitchell's motor and intensity are pretty special. He's worked really hard, and I hope he can give us the same kind of season that he's had in spring practice and in the fall."
New defensive line coach Roy Tesh, who came with Houston from Lenoir-Rhyne, teaches a "tilted three" technique that could help Jeter wreak more havoc on opposing backfields.
In the "tilted three," Jeter lines up at a 45-degree angle to the opposing lineman, making it harder for that lineman to get his hands on the defensive tackle.
"I love it," says Jeter, who made the SoCon all-freshman team in 2011. "Last year, we were not tilted and it was harder to deal with blocks. With the tilt technique, it's more 'Get after it.' You can see the lineman better and read the blocks. You are firing off to one side, so you're not giving them your chest to block."
Jeter makes up for a lack of height with tremendous strength. Strength coach Donnell Boucher calls him "the strongest guy on the team," with a bench press of 470 pounds.
"He's over 270 pounds and can dunk a basketball," Boucher said. "His vertical leap is over 30 inches, pretty amazing for a guy his size."
Tesh said Jeter has taken on a leadership role on the D-line, despite the presence of seniors such as end Justin Oxendine and tackle Cam Mobley.
"He's adapting to the way we teach things, which is a little bit different than what we've done in the past," Tesh said. "I really think that's freed him up a little bit and allow him to do what he does well, which is explode off the ball and really attack linemen."
Freshman slotback Jalen Lampkin broke off a 40-yard TD run, and sophomore linebacker Tevin Floyd scooped up a fumble and went 40 yards for another score to highlight the Bulldogs' first preseason scrimmage Saturday morning.
"I thought we had good intensity and the kids gave great effort," said Houston. "We don't play for two weeks and have a lot to work on, but it was a great effort."
Joining QB Aaron Miller in the first-team backfield were slotbacks Jonathan Dorogy and Craig Miller, with sophomore Tyler Renew at B-back. Cam Jackson and freshman Dominique Allen both saw reps at QB with the first- and second-team offense. Slotback Jake Stenson sat out with neck pain, but should return next week.
On the offensive line, Ryan Bednar handled the snapping, while Sam Frye, who played center last season, and Kyle Weaver flanked Bednar at guard. Redshirt senior Victor Hill and redshirt freshman Isaiah Pinson started at tackle, while Harrison Davis rotated in with the first-teamers.
The Bulldogs used a four-man rotation at wide receiver, with juniors Brandon Eakins and Alex Glover, along with sophomores Rudder Brown and Jorian Jordan.
Defensively, the Bulldogs came out with a front four of Mark Thomas, Jeter, Mobley and Oxendine. Joe Crochet also saw time with the first team at defensive end.
At linebacker, an experienced crew of Carl Robinson, James Riley, Tevin Floyd and Carson Smith rotated in, while senior Rah Muhammad started at the Bandit position.
Julian Baxter and Nick Willis started at safety, while redshirt senior Walker Smith and redshirt freshman DeVonta Delaney handled the cornerback duties.
"The biggest thing in a simulated game mode is communication, especially with a lot of new guys on the offensive side," said Houston. "We are getting better every day and we have a lot more time to prepare for the game on Aug. 30."
The Citadel football and volleyball teams will meet fans at the Coke Zero Meet the Bulldogs Day at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Altman Center at the stadium.