Brian Mitchell, the quarterback-turned-running back who has had such a bright and shining training camp for the Washington Redskins, has taken a path to the NFL that has been anything but typical.

He graduated from Plauemine High in Louisiana with a 3.8 grade-point average, and while a dozen schools offered football scholarships, a few also offered to support his studies in chemical engineering.

Football paid his tuition at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, but a Dow Chemical Co. scholarship program gave him spending money.

He was courted by Louisiana State, Arkansas, Nebraska, Tulane and others, but chose Southwestern Louisiana because his high school coach moved there and never mentioned redshirting or shifting him to running back or cornerback.

His father, Blanche, a career Army man, told him: "Don't let them use you. Go someplace that'll allow you to be what you want to be."

Brian was the youngest of seven children, and whenever he found a task too difficult, whenever something was too heavy or too high, his father would snap: "Come on, you're a Mitchell."

He may have taken that message to heart, because as USL Coach Don Jones said: "He's not the type that will fail. People in Washington will find that out."

Mitchell started three years at Southwestern Louisiana and finished with staggering statistics -- 5,447 passing yards and 3,335 rushing yards. No college player in history had ever rolled up those kinds of numbers, but from the moment his career began, he always hoped to someday be the next Tony Dorsett rather than the next Randall Cunningham.

His father drilled into him the idea of setting goals and staying with them. Playing quarterback was not a goal.

"I was a running back," he said. "I was 5-10 and knew what my position was going to be. One thing I liked about USL is that I got almost 600 carries. That gave the scouts plenty of chances to see me carry the ball. They could see I could take a pounding. You see some option quarterbacks who carry the ball 200, 300 times their whole careers, and no one knows if they can hold up as a running back."

By the time he left Southwestern Louisiana, almost everyone in the NFL knew he was a special talent. The only question was whether he could make the adjustment from scrambling option quarterback, a guy who ran to daylight whenever there was some, to running back, where a player lines up in one place and runs to a designated hole.

The Redskins didn't have the answer last spring when they used their fifth-round pick to take him, and they might not know it yet.

What they know is that Mitchell has a lot of skills, and that he provides another reason to hope this rookie class is something special. Their top draft choice, linebacker Andre Collins, is on the verge of playing his way into the starting lineup; quarterback Cary Conklin, safety Rico Labbe, defensive tackle Kent Wells and guard Tim Moxley have received praise at one time or another.

And then there is Mitchell, whose 92-yard kickoff return was one of the highlights of the first preseason game. His 45 yards rushing was one of the highlights of the second.

The Redskins still don't know how he might fit in. He's likely to make the squad as a special teams performer and backup running back. But with Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs and James Wilder in front of him, he may have trouble getting his hands on the ball.

Still, what they saw almost by accident last winter in Houston -- a guy with soft hands playfully running better pass routes than some receivers -- is the guy they have.

"A real bright spot," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Brian has a lot of talent and we want to see more of him."

Mitchell's high school and college coach, Fred Jones, told him he might find parts of the NFL easier "because they'll be running plays for you. You'll be able to line up seven yards behind the line and see things develop."

Mitchell hasn't found it any easier. He has made mistakes, has run the wrong way a couple of times. But he also has looked like a young back with strong legs and a slashing style.

"I feel real good about things right now," he said. "But I don't want to get overconfident. I'm still learning the things I'm supposed to do at running back and it's coming along. All I'm thinking is: 'Have a good game Saturday {in Cleveland}, survive the cut Tuesday and go from there.' "

He knows he has been one of the stars of this training camp, but he has avoided watching television interviews or reading newspaper articles. "I talk to some of the older players," he said, "and they tell me, 'You're doing fine, don't get a big head, keep it up.' "

That should not be a problem. He socked his signing bonus into a savings account, is a few hours away from a degree in management and still has his eyes on graduate school.

He didn't arrive at Redskin Park with run-of-the-mill notions about himself or his career, and a conversation with him isn't run-of-the-mill either.

For instance: "People told me if you go to a big school, you've got a chance to go high in the draft. Well, I went to a small school and went pretty high anyway."

And: "I started out studying chemical engineering, but I didn't have any time for myself. I switched to management and for a long time I thought I wanted to work for a large corporation. But after a couple of experiences my senior year, I decided that being in sports management might be the way to go. I've just seen so many crooks, people who are out to make a buck and don't care what they do to people. I know because I went through it."

And: "My agent is a woman at a Nashville law firm that wanted to get into sports management. I'd known her a long time and felt comfortable with her. Other agents said she had no experience, but how much experience can you have? You're only going to get so much money anyway, and when you're picked in the fifth round like I was, your salary is kind of slotted into a certain area. I didn't even think about investments and all that kind of thing. She told me to save some money, and when I get plenty saved I can think about investments. Remember, all those investments aren't going to pay off and you'd better have something to fall back on."

Jones has known Mitchell nine years and says he has always been mature beyond his years. He also says that he has "more burning desire to succeed than anyone I've ever known. I just can't imagine him failing at anything. It's not in his makeup.

"He got a 27, 28 on his ACT scores {out of a possible 35} and could have gone to school anywhere. He came here because he wanted to prove he could play quarterback in Division I. He has never even missed a practice. He's more special than the Redskins know right now."