In 2005, he was considered the finest high school football player in the country. Heavily recruited, the quarterback was sought after by Notre Dame, Alabama, and the school just down the road from home, Arkansas. Many believed that he was a better player than another promising high school quarterback, Tim Tebow. In 2013, Mitch Mustain is the back up quarterback to the San Jose SaberCats, an arena football league team. The documentary,The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain
, seeks to understand what happened.*
*Trailer for documentary.
The documentary defines itself as:
In 2005, Mitch Mustain was the most decorated high school football player in all of America. Named the first ever consensus Gatorade, Parade, and USA Today Player of the Year, Mustain grabbed the spotlight from future NFL players such as Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford. At the age of seventeen, USA Today ordained Mustain as “Football’s Future”. He was destined to become a game-changing college and pro quarterback. Unfortunately, football was not the only thing Mitch saw in his future, and while the game came easy to Mitch, finding joy in the game eventually became a job. The film, narrated by Nolan Richardson, follows Mitch’s present-day struggle to find balance between who he once was, and who he now wants to be.
Mitch Mustain was a leading member of the Springdale (Arkansas) High School champion football team and part of the affably labeled "Springdale Five," five players from the team who all received Division I football scholarships.
The five were:
- Mitch Mustain
- Damian Williams
- Ben Cleveland
- Bartley Webb
- Andrew Norman
The head coach of the Springdale team was Gus Malzahn.
The rise of Springdale coincided with a rocky time for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks
football team. The folksy head coach, nicknamed the Right Reverend, Houston Nutt
, had suffered two losing seasons in a row, going 5-6 in 2004, and 4-7 in 2005 (including an historic and humiliating defeat at the hands of the University of Southern California
, 17 - 70). In the high pressure atmosphere of the Southeastern Conference
, expectations were high that Nutt had to turn around the program or face termination.
Springdale's success, only minutes away from Razorback Stadium
, placed a spotlight on the Springdale Five and on their coach. Many believed that the answer to the school's football woes lay just down the road and it would be virtually a disaster if Arkansas could not bring home it's talented natives. A Grantland article (cached) on Gus Malzahn covered the moment
Arkansas doesn’t have a surplus of four- and five-star recruits, so the Springdale Five became intense objects of desire for University of Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. “We’re going to protect what’s ours, first and foremost,” Nutt told Scout.com.
How do you keep great players in Arkansas? You pull the old AAU trick and hire their coach. That December, Nutt made Malzahn his offensive coordinator. Which isn’t to say Malzahn didn’t have credentials. He’d won state titles at two schools. He’d published a book outlining his offensive philosophy. But his hiring clearly had a transactional element. In February 2006, four of the Springdale Five committed to Arkansas. "I'm going to let Gus go," Nutt said of his new offensive guru. "I'm going to turn him loose.”
Nutt turned Malzahn loose for one game and then reverted back to his own play calling after a season opener re-match against USC that resulted in another lopsided defeat. Out of the disaster of the first game, Mustain's star began to shine. Jumping in to replace an injured Casey Dick, Mustain lead the team to a quick touch down, and in the next eight games, started and won every match up, helping the team to rise to 12th in the nation; all as a true freshman.
Not all was well during this successful and successive streak. A book about the Springdale High championship team and its coach
quoted a pre-Arkansas Mustain calling his new coach a "dork" and insulted Nutt's "boring offense." In turn, Teresa Prewitt, a close friend of the coach who often was allowed on the sideline at games, fired off a rage-filled e-mail to the freshman quarterback. Addressed to "Hello Mr. Interception King," the letter dismissed Mustain's talents, accused him of arrogance, and was riddled with insults.(For the actual e-mail, just check out the link at the bottom).
At the same time, the parents of the Springdale Five were alleged to have complained to the school's athletic director about the treatment of their sons, with Mustain's mother, incensed by her son's treatment, front and center.
After an interception in the first half of Mustain's eighth game starting, Nutt pulled him and sent in the sophomore, Casey Dick. Mustain never played again. In the turmoil of the off season, Malzahn left Arkansas for the University of Tulsa, where his offenses broke records in points and yardage. Of the Springdale Five who signed on for Arkansas, all but Ben Cleveland, transferred out, with both Mustain and Damian Williams going to USC under Pete Carrol (where Williams became a star receiver and Mustain a perennial back up to a line up of top drafted quarterbacks). At the end of his college career, Mustain reflected in a USA Today article about what happened at USC and his hope to still find a path in professional football
Houston Nutt, however, took the team to the Citrus Bowl, where he lost to present day Arkansas head coach, Brett Bielema
, a first year coach at Wisconsin. In 2007, his successful team stumbled and finished with a winning, but worse record than the year before.
The losses of 2007 helped break open the possibility of Nutt being terminated, a cause promoted by a small but loud minority. A major player in the process was Thomas McAfee,
who filed a FOIA request which unleashed rumors of adultery with a local news anchorwoman (an affair of thousands of text messages) among other allegations. In the end, after an upset win over the expected winner, Louisiana State University, Nutt ceremoniously resigned from the team, only to sign with Ole Miss four days later
. For the deeply interested, here's a comprehensive 46 page reconciliation of the events surrounding Houston Nutt