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CUMBERLAND â€” Mitchell Baxter had a perfectly good reason to step inside Cumberland Highâ€™s main office at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
With his heart and mind firmly made up about joining the Bryant University football family, Baxter faxed in his National Letter of Intent to the NCAA Division I FCS member. A senior who played a key role in the Clippers capturing the Division II Super Bowl this past fall, Baxter had also considered Assumption (Mass.) College, Southern Connecticut State, West Virginiaâ€™s Fairmont State University and Plymouth (N.H.) State.
â€śIt was so relieving signing that paper,â€ť remarked Baxter when reached Wednesday night. â€śI got to take a step back, just take a deep breath, and realize that I get to enjoy the rest of my senior year.â€ť
Ironically, Baxter arrived at his final decision on the same day that saw high school gridiron prospects across the country announce their choice of college.
â€śIâ€™m ecstatic for him. (Bryant) was the school he wanted to go to, so itâ€™s just a great thing for him,â€ť remarked Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka. â€śHeâ€™s worked real hard to get to the point where he can play Division I football. Itâ€™s kind of a little bit of relief that Mitchell knows he can do it and Bryant wanted him to be there.â€ť
He will join the Bulldogs as a wide receiver, a role he specialized in during the 2012 high school season. The six-foot, 180-pound Baxter ended up hauling in 41 passes for 646 yards and eight touchdowns on his way to being named First Team All-State and Offensive Player of the Year from the Providence Gridiron Club.
The Clippersâ€™ choice for team MVP, Baxter ended up posting two games of 100-plus receiving yards and saved his only multiple offensive touchdown game for the Super Bowl, hauling in two scores against Woonsocket High.
â€śSometimes I would be split out wide, in the slot or lending a hand at tight end,â€ť said Baxter about the multiple looks he provided to Cumberlandâ€™s opponents. â€śThere were even some formations where I would be at a wing position where I could run the ball.â€ť
Baxterâ€™s Swiss Army approach caught the eye of Bryant assistant coach Mike Engle, who works primarily with the teamâ€™s receiving corps.
â€śHe seemed like a guy who can coach very well and I feel like (Engle) could be a very good coach for me,â€ť Baxter stated. â€śIt seemed like a very good fit.â€ť
Having Bryant head coach Marty Fine take in several Cumberland games was an ace in the hole that figured to work to Baxterâ€™s advantage. Fineâ€™s son, Joe, is a junior and plays running back/linebacker for the Clippers.
â€śIâ€™m sure it helped out with getting more exposure, which I was lucky to have,â€ť said Baxter when asked about Marty Fine coming to check out the Clippers.
Added Skurka, â€śWith a scholarship program, they wouldnâ€™t have taken him unless they think he can do it.â€ť
A member of the Cumberland basketball team thatâ€™s currently in first place in Division II-North, Baxter was asked what the Bulldogs would like to see him work on prior to setting foot on the Smithfield campus later this year. The 17-year-old mentioned foot speed, which has him contemplating whether to run the 100-meter dash in outdoor track or play on the high schoolâ€™s golf team.
â€śThey want me to work on getting off the ball because itâ€™s going to be a lot different going against college cornerbacks rather than high school cornerbacks,â€ť said Baxter, who as a two-way contributor for Cumberland recorded 67 tackles last season.
All told, Bryant received commitments from 30 players, among them 23 captains and 21 who played on championship teams last fall.