Returning to Arkansas with position established and scholarship in hand, Loewen has gone Whole Hog
LAHAINA – Mitchell Loewen’s summer vacation ended Sunday.
Loewen, a 2011 Lahainaluna High School graduate, departed for the University of Arkansas to attend summer classes and work out in preparation for his redshirt sophomore season for the Razorbacks football team – with a scholarship in hand.
The 2010 Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Player of the Year was granted a scholarship after emerging from spring drills as the starting tight end.
It is the latest step on the meteoric journey he has taken since his days as a 152-pound wrestler for the Lunas 4 1/2 years ago – he now stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds.
Loewen learned of the scholarship in a team meeting, after having tried to find out if one would be coming at a one-on-one meeting with new coach Bret Bielema.
“I just went in there at 8 o’clock in the morning, was talking to him about it and then he was beating around the bush, so I was, like, ‘All right, I guess I’m not getting one,’ ” Loewen said Saturday during a workout at his brother’s garage in Lahaina.
“Then later that day we got a text on our phone: ‘Team meeting 3:30.’ (Bielema) was just addressing the team, ‘I thought we had an overall good spring,’ and then he just said, ‘There’s a couple guys I’d like to acknowledge who had a really good spring and I’d like to give them a scholarship.’ I was really surprised.”
Loewen said his teammates’ response was positive.
“They were, like, ‘You deserved it Mitch,’ ” he said. “I have tried to be one of the hardest-working guys on the team. They can see that I have put in the time and it was just a matter of time until I got one.”
Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert said in March that Loewen stood out like a veteran in offseason conditioning.
“Mitchell Loewen, I don’t think he’s played the tight end position before,” Herbert said. “But it was one of the things I told Coach B: I thought he was a two- or three-year starter. He bends well, he’s strong, he’s aggressive.
“Interested to see him get comfortable and go out and apply some of the things that he does, because he’s a big, physical kid who has a little bit of a streak in him. He’s going to be a fun one to watch.”
Loewen caught one pass in his Lahainaluna career, but now the Southeastern Conference’s only football player ever from the MIL has found his position.
With Arkansas, he has overcome a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and lined up at inside and outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle, plus center, offensive tackle and offensive guard – in addition to fullback, his position when he started against Tulsa in one of the five games he played in 2012.
“If someone would have told me two years ago that I would be a starting tight end in the SEC I wouldn’t have believed them,” Loewen said. “But God works in mysterious ways. That’s the only explanation for all this. I just want to go out there and see what I can do and prove myself.”
When Bielema arrived from Wisconsin in December, taking over a team coming off a 4-8 season, Loewen said he told him: ” ‘I want to be the next J.J. Watt,’ because I wanted to go back to defense. I really like defense, but they said, ‘No, you’re going to play tight end.’
“I was, like, ‘All right, tight end is a real fun position, too.’
“I just started to get the hang of it. The blocking and all of that comes naturally, catching comes naturally. The only thing I need to get used to is running with the ball.”
Loewen estimates he has caught four passes in his life in real games – the other three came in Pop Warner for the Lahaina Little Chiefs.
“I have caught more picks on defense than I have passes,” he said. “I’m a real physical guy – that’s why they like me. I like blocking, but I mean, I want to be a threat, I want to be the go-to guy on third down.”
Last summer, Loewen would work 35-45 hours per week to offset the $20,000 or so he had to borrow from his grandfather Mac McClain to attend school – two workouts a day were also on the agenda, along with as much surfing as possible. He didn’t return to Arkansas until shortly before fall camp opened, in late July.
“It feels like King Kong has hopped off my back because I don’t have to worry about anything financially. I’m covered and I don’t have any worries really,” he said of his scholarship. “My grandpa has been following me around, telling all his friends, ‘My grandson’s an Arkansas Razorback, watch out for him.’ It’s awesome, it’s like Christmas morning.
“In the last six months I have gone from second-string walk-on fullback to starting tight end, a position I have never played before. It just shows you that a little boy from Maui can go out there and play with the big boys in the SEC. I want to take this thing as far as I can. I want to help kids out, help them get off this island and go pursue their dreams.”
Arkansas was ranked No. 10 in the nation by The Associated Press entering last season, but stumbled under interim coach John L. Smith, who took over after Bobby Petrino was fired less than two weeks before the spring game after failing to disclose he was having an affair with a school employee.
With Bielema in town after guiding Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances, the excitement is back, though for the always-smiling Loewen, it really never left.
“Football’s football,” he said. “I play better when there’s better competition around me, so I’m just ready to see what I can do with all these big names and have fun doing it. We are definitely going to put all of that stuff behind us – we are going to be on top of the SEC this year.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org