CUMBERLAND — Mitchell Baxter had a perfectly good reason to step inside Cumberland High’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 Virginia’s Fairmont State University and Plymouth (N.H.) State.
“It was so relieving signing that paper,” remarked Baxter when reached Wednesday night. “I got to take a step back, just take a deep breath, and realize that I get to enjoy the rest of my senior year.”
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.
“I’m ecstatic for him. (Bryant) was the school he wanted to go to, so it’s just a great thing for him,” remarked Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka. “He’s worked real hard to get to the point where he can play Division I football. It’s kind of a little bit of relief that Mitchell knows he can do it and Bryant wanted him to be there.”
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 Clippers’ 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.
“Sometimes I would be split out wide, in the slot or lending a hand at tight end,” said Baxter about the multiple looks he provided to Cumberland’s opponents. “There were even some formations where I would be at a wing position where I could run the ball.”
Baxter’s Swiss Army approach caught the eye of Bryant assistant coach Mike Engle, who works primarily with the team’s receiving corps.
“He seemed like a guy who can coach very well and I feel like (Engle) could be a very good coach for me,” Baxter stated. “It seemed like a very good fit.”
Having Bryant head coach Marty Fine take in several Cumberland games was an ace in the hole that figured to work to Baxter’s advantage. Fine’s son, Joe, is a junior and plays running back/linebacker for the Clippers.
“I’m sure it helped out with getting more exposure, which I was lucky to have,” said Baxter when asked about Marty Fine coming to check out the Clippers.
Added Skurka, “With a scholarship program, they wouldn’t have taken him unless they think he can do it.”
A member of the Cumberland basketball team that’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 school’s golf team.
“They want me to work on getting off the ball because it’s going to be a lot different going against college cornerbacks rather than high school cornerbacks,” 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.