During his senior season with Princeton High football team in 2011, Alex Mitko gave a vivid display of his leadership and grit.
Mitko started the year at quarterback and led PHS to a 20-14 win over Northern Burlington in the opener to snap an 11-game losing streak for the Little Tigers. He broke his right thumb in that contest but returned two weeks later and played at running back and defensive back with a cast on his hand.
By the end of the fall, he was back at quarterback, triggering the PHS offense while continuing to guide the Little Tiger secondary.
Joining the Hamilton College football team last fall, Mitko’s leadership and toughness came in handy shortly after he arrived on campus for preseason training.
“My coaches told me that I was going to play safety so I could look at the playbook and get a feel for the position,” said the 5’10, 165-pound Mitko, a native of Cranbury, who is starting preseason camp this week for the Continentals as he prepares for his sophomore season.
“I got thrown in there when one of the older kids got injured. I had to make the calls in the secondary, relaying all the coverages to the defensive backs. I had done that in high school so that was good. A lot of the seniors and the older guys made me feel comfortable, they gave me guidance. One of our captains, Mike MacDonald, a senior linebacker, helped me a lot.”
Mitko emerged as a dependable guy for Hamilton, starting all eight games, making 38 tackles with two forced fumbles, two tackles for a loss, and a blocked kick.
In reflecting on his debut against Amherst College, Mitko acknowledged that he had some uncomfortable moments.
“They ran a no-huddle offense and on first drive they didn’t huddle once,” recalled Mitko.
“They scored and then we ran the kickoff back for a touchdown so we had to go right back on the field. It was the fastest I have played. I was screaming out calls while racing back to my position.”
Mitko found himself in position to make some plays in that first drive. “It was one of the first plays; a kid ran up the middle and I got my first tackle out of the way,” said Mitko, who got credited with four stops in the 38-14 loss to the Lord Jeffs.
“I learned that 250-pound running backs go down like everyone else. After I got a few tackles, I started getting more comfortable.”
For Mitko, Hamilton’s lone win of the fall, a 14-13 triumph over Bowdoin, was a highlight.
“That game was important; our head coach had just come from being the defensive coordinator at Bowdoin and he really wanted that one,” said Mitko.
“It was a nailbiter; I would have liked the game to be more one-sided but any way you can win a game is OK.”
While Hamilton ended up going 1-7, Mitko feels the program is on the verge of turning a corner.
“In the first halfs, we played really well,” said Mitko. “We were back and forth in games. We had a lot of young players and we let things slip away in the third and fourth quarters. With experience, you learn to give 100 percent and finish plays. You try to be more flawless and you will come out with more victories.”
As Mitko heads into his sophomore campaign which will kick off when Hamilton hosts Amherst on September 21, he is looking to apply the experience he gained last year.
“I went from scrambling to settling in to knowing my role and what I am supposed to do now,” said Mitko.
“I want to do more than my job. I have talked to the coaches, I need to get out on breaks more and jump pass routes.”
Not surprisingly, Mitko is also looking to exert his flair for leadership. “We have a very young secondary,” said Mitko. “I would like us to be an improved unit and be someone to reckon with in the NESCAC.”
Utilizing his trademark grit from the start, Mitko has already proven that he is a player to be reckoned with at the next level.