Former Calvert High School standout Sean Mizzer learned to adjust to the basics of military life last season at Fork Union Military Academy. Limited phone use, shortened dining periods and structured sleeping schedules were part of the deal. So was a hard-nosed brand of football played at a speed he hadn't seen in high school.
But there was one thing that a year of preparatory school couldn't teach him, something that has become essential to his success this season at NCAA Division I-AA Virginia Military Institute: how to get rid of butterflies.
Mizzer, who had one carry through the Keydets' first four games this season, saw his playing time increase in Week 5 against Furman. He got his first real shot Oct. 19 at Chattanooga, when he rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, his first game over the 100-yard plateau.
"I wasn't getting a lot of carries at first, so when I did get in I was nervous," said Mizzer, who has added two more consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Chattanooga. "Getting the ball more relaxed me. It gave me confidence, and that helped me play better."
Better is an understatement. Mizzer (5-9, 185 pounds) has been named Southern Conference Freshman of the Week twice in the past three games, after his showing at Chattanooga and again after a 106-yard rushing, 104-yard receiving day Nov. 2 against Western Carolina. He is the first VMI player to gain 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the same game. He also is the first Keydets running back to rush for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games since Thomas Haskins closed the 1996 season with five consecutive 100-yard games.
With two games left in his season, Mizzer can still match that feat. He also is closing in on Haskins's VMI freshman rushing mark of 594 yards.
"He's not a big kid, but he's got great speed, great vision, and he catches the football so well that he gives us another dimension on offense," said VMI Coach Cal McCombs, whose team was 5-5 entering Saturday's game against Appalachian State. "He's a guy who is just driven. He's got some talent, but he's so driven. He's a freshman and he comes into the Southern Conference, one of the best conferences in the country, and what he's done is so amazing."
Mizzer, who was an instrumental member of Calvert's 2000 Maryland 3A championship team, has carried the ball 71 times this season for 461 yards and four touchdowns, an average of 6.5 yards per carry. He also has eight catches for 165 yards and a score, and has returned 23 punts and kickoffs for 380 yards.
"I'm a little surprised by it all," Mizzer said. "I used to question my own ability sometimes. Am I good enough to play at this level? But now I know I am. I guess I figured that out after my first 100-yard game. It was about learning the system and the plays and blocking schemes. Then I could get rid of the nerves and be comfortable out there.
"There are two games left. . . . I just want to finish the season strong."