Ridaught: A diamond in the rough

Williston native and University of Toledo's Quinyon Mitchell was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.
Williston native and University of Toledo's Quinyon Mitchell was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.
Courtesy of University of Toledo

For the second straight year, an area athlete has been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Last year, former Eastside and University of Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson was selected fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts.

On Thursday night, Williston native and Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell (6’, 195) was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 22 overall pick.

“When the call came in, I actually missed the call and I had to answer it again,” Mitchell said to the media about the Eagles’ phone call. “I mean it just felt great. They asked me if I was ready to roll and I’m ready to roll. I’m ready to get to it. It’s a great organization, a great city, great fans. I just feel like I’m going into a great situation right now.”

Mitchell is the first cornerback the Eagles have drafted in the first round since former Gator Lito Sheppard in 2002.

During the NFL Draft coverage, Nick Saban admitted Alabama wanted Mitchell to transfer to the Tide.

However, one thing that Mitchell’s mom, MaShonda Solomon, was proud of was his loyalty.

“Power Five programs offered six-figure NIL deals for him to transfer, but he declined because the relationships he established with coaches and teammates at Toledo were priceless,” she said.

He has come a long way since his playing days at Williston High School, where he was only a 3-star prospect but ended up being a first-round NFL pick.

“Q has always been special,” said former Eastside football coach Cedderick Daniels. “I remember we played him his senior year. The week before he rolled his ankle pretty bad. We knew that if he was out we had a great chance at winning. I remember watching him during pregame and he had a boot on but when the game started, he was dressed and ready. He ran for over 200 on us with one leg. I knew then he was special.”

The Sunshine State was well represented as five former high school players from Florida were first round picks.

Florida's Ricky Pearsall was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at No. 31 by the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.
Courtesy of UAA Florida’s Ricky Pearsall was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at No. 31 by the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.

Another 3-star coming out of high school, former University of Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, was drafted 31st overall in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers.

It marked the fifth-straight year that a Gator had been drafted in the first round joining Richardson (2023), Kaiir Elam (2022), Kyle Pitts & Kadarius Toney (2021) and CJ Henderson (2020).

The Chandler (AZ) native joined UF prior to the 2022 season after three seasons (2019-21) at Arizona State. He played in 55 career games with 33 starts and never missed a game.

Pearsall (6’1, 190) ended his career with 159 catches for 2,420 receiving yards, 14 touchdown catches with marks of 15.2 yards per catch, 2.9 receptions per game and 44.0 yards per game.

Two of his more memorable plays were the one-handed catch he made in the Swamp this past season and the game-winning 21-yard touchdown reception to beat South Carolina, 41-39, in Columbia.

He ended with career-highs in catches (10) and receiving yards (166) against the Gamecocks.

Pearsall led the Gators in receptions (65), receiving yards (965) and receiving yards per game (80.4).

Forty-one (63.1%) of his catches were for first downs and 35 (53.8%) going for double digits. Out of his 159 career receptions, 102 (69.3%) moved the chains with 90 (59.5%) marking 10-plus yards or more.

At the NFL Combine, he finished in the 97th percentile of all athletes who participated in the event with a vertical jump of 42 inches, while his 10’9 in the broad jump was in the 89th percentile.

He also added a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, ranking 10th best among receivers at the combine.

Another area player with a similar attributes who is hoping to get a chance at the next level is The University of Tennessee at Martin’s DeVonte Tanksley.

Tanksley (5’10, 160), who is originally from Belle Glade (FL), transferred to Eastside High School for his junior and senior seasons.

He played alongside Richardson, who was two years behind him, for two seasons.

As a junior at Eastside, Tanksley averaged 15.8 yards per catch and led the Rams with 396 yards in just five games.

Despite playing in only six games as a senior, he finished with 553 yards (92.2 ypg) and six touchdowns.

“We had a really good connection,” Tanksley told NFL Draft Diamonds lead scout Jimmy Williams, who called him a “Diamond in the Rough.” “I wasn’t highly recruited. I didn’t have any offers. Catawba showed some interest when I was looking for a school. They weren’t sure about me. I had to take a drive up to North Carolina and did a workout during spring practice and earned my way to get an O (offer), and it started from there.”

He played three seasons at Catawba College but during the Covid year he decided to hit the portal.

Daniels helped him by getting him a private workout with Memphis.

Although he didn’t get an offer, a relationship with one of the coaches led him to getting an offer from UT Martin.

The redshirt senior set a program Division I record with 220 yards on nine catches against Murray State (Oct. 8, 2022) to earn Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week honors.

At UT Martin’s Pro Day, he ran a 4.4 in the 40 and had a 38-inch vertical and a 10’2 broad jump.

However, Tanksley wasn’t expecting to take his talents to the league just yet. He was waiting on an appeal to play another year of college ball.

His head coach, Jason Simpson, suggested he attend because he didn’t want him to miss an opportunity.

“I was getting ready for spring ball,” he said. “I didn’t get to train. I basically went off the couch and went to pro day.”

Since his big day, Tanksley has hired an agent and has decided to forego another year in college.

“I’m super excited for Devonte,” Daniels said. “He has worked extremely hard to get this moment. Whoever takes a chance on him will have a dedicated and hard-working player.”

The second and third rounds of the NFL draft begin tonight at 7 p.m., followed by rounds 4-7 taking place at noon on Saturday to conclude the draft.

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