Redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell, who was projected to be the University of Wisconsin football team’s starting free safety this season, has been granted his release from the program and is expected to transfer to Pittsburgh.
WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported the news.
Mitchell, 6-foot, 183 pounds, is from Pittsburgh and attended Shady Side Academy. He was recruited by former UW tight ends coach Joe Rudolph, who is now the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator under Paul Chryst at Pitt. Chryst is a former UW offensive coordinator who is entering his second season as the Panthers’ coach.
The Badgers return just one starter in the secondary, senior Dezmen Southward, who has moved to strong safety after playing free safety last season.
Mitchell worked as the No. 1 free safety for most of the spring. UW coach Gary Andersen praised Mitchell’s development in an interview last month on Sirius XM’s “College Sports Nation.”
“I’m excited about what he did,” Andersen said. “I believe as a freshman coming in, he is going to lock down one of those safety spots.”
The leading candidates to replace Mitchell are junior Michael Trotter, who started three games last season, and Donnell Vercher, a transfer from Fresno City Community College.
Junior Jeff Lewis, who was the No. 3 tailback in the spring, is also expected to move to safety to help with the depth. Another running back, senior Kyle Zuleger, moved to safety in the spring and impressed the coaches.
Mitchell, a former prep quarterback, started out at cornerback for the Badgers but moved to safety on the first day of winter workouts. He gave no indication he was unhappy at UW during a spring interview.
“It was rough in the beginning,” Mitchell said of the position switch, “just trying to learn the position, first of all, before anything else. Just trying to understand what being a safety is and attacking the playbook.
“I’ve been up there (in the football offices) watching film with Dez and all of the guys, just trying to pick their brains. They’re asking me questions; I ask them questions. It’s really been helping. I’ve made a lot of progress from day one.”
Safeties coach Bill Busch said in the spring that Mitchell was a good fit at safety because of his speed and coverage ability.
“When we first got here, we looked at (safety) and we wanted to get faster,” Busch said. “Boy, he’s done well. His care factor ... he’s tough. He can run, someone who can cover in space. He’s got a long way to go, but I love him.”
Safety is a key position in UW’s new defensive scheme and the pressure will be on Trotter, Vercher or somebody else to step up and fill the position.
“He’s got a lot of range and ability,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said of Mitchell in the spring. “He can play man coverage as well as zone coverage. So there’s plenty of things he allows us to do as a defense.
“From where we’re coming from, we’d like the defense to be flexible, to be able to play zone or man, or have safeties and cornerbacks, at times, be interchangeable. With (covering) tight ends and those things, he allows us to do that.
“There’s more things you can do as a defense when your safeties can cover. He’s shown the ability to tackle and put his nose in the fray. That’s a positive.”