He’s taken an unbelievable leadership role for us that’s been key to getting us to where we are. There is nobody on this team who wants to win this thing more than he does.
Steve Coury, Lake Oswego Head Football Coach
When he broke the huddle late in the fourth quarter against Tigard on Saturday, Mitch Lomax could hardly believe the words just spoken by quarterback Justen Ruppe.
The Lakers had a two-touchdown lead in the final minutes of the Class 6A football semifinal, and finally, they were going to run a play they call “Soul Train” – an end-around for Lomax, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior tight end/linebacker.
“For about three seconds walking up to the line I was like, ‘Wait, what did he just call?’” Lomax said. “And then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to get to carry the ball.’ I was thinking, ‘What if I get tackled for a five-yard loss, or I fumble the ball, or I forget which hand to carry it?’
“But right when he said, ‘Hike,’ I was like, ‘OK, let’s go for it.’”
It was rare opportunity for Lomax, and he made the most of it. But more on that later.
Despite coming from a quarterback family – his father, Neil, played 10 seasons in the NFL and his brothers, Nick and Jack, were all-state players at Lake Oswego – Mitch has rarely handled the ball during his football career.
Instead, with a much heftier build, he has become a leader on the state-leading defense for the second-ranked Lakers (13-0), who go for a repeat state championship Saturday when they meet No. 1 Sheldon (13-0) in the Class 6A final at Jeld-Wen Field.
“I keep joking with Laurie, ‘Is this really our kid? I’ve got to check the DNA here,’” Neil Lomax said with a laugh. “This kid is 6-4, 240, and he can run and jump. The other ones are 6-6, 6-5, and skinny kids like I was in high school.”
In his early days of youth football, Mitch Lomax wanted to have the ball in his hands, but he was too big to legally carry it. He showed his athleticism and skill, though, in pitching Lake Oswego to the Little League World Series in 2007.
“He’s got a gun,” Neil said.
With his physical attributes, it was clear that he was a better suited to play in the trenches in football. He had the size, strength and speed to excel at linebacker, but by the time he joined Lake Oswego’s varsity as a sophomore, he was lacking one key ingredient – desire.
“He was a little bit soft,” Lakers coach Steve Coury said. “I wasn’t sure if he was going to turn into a tennis player or a football player. It’s hard to make a kid mean. He’s so damn nice and he’s always smiling. And you want him to look mean and kick somebody in the butt.”
Lomax needed to improve his work ethic.
“I definitely remember a lot of conversations with Coach Coury about how I needed to get in the weight room during the offseason,” Lomax said. “He was on me, and my dad was on me, in a good way. They both knew, especially Coach Coury, that if I didn’t get in there, I’d just be a mediocre player.”
A three-sport athlete, Lomax quit the baseball team early in his sophomore season to concentrate on football. He became a first-team all-league linebacker as a junior, and after increasing his commitment to weightlifting and speed, agility and quickness training last offseason, he has taken another leap forward as a senior.
He not only got bigger, going from 220 pounds at the end of last season to 240 at the start of this season, but he is fleeter afoot. More important, he is meaner.
“My aggressiveness has gone up a ton,” Lomax said. “I feel like I’ve grown the most I have in my entire life, from the start of this year to right now.”
His father, an assistant coach at Roosevelt, has noticed.
“The transformation I’ve seen in the last two years, he’s putting his nose in there,” Neil Lomax said. “I think his size and love for the game have transformed him.”
Lakers senior safety Jack Anderson said Lomax always has been a gamer, but has matured into a practice player, too.
“That’s something he’s definitely learned, doing reps like 100 percent all the time,” Anderson said. “He promised to all the seniors during our senior retreat that he would do that, and he’s definitely done that.”
As a relatively late bloomer, Lomax is getting lukewarm interest from colleges. He said he has offers from Portland State and Montana, and Oregon has encouraged him to walk-on, but he is going to wait and see if other offers materialize before signing day in February.
“He’s a big-time player, and it’s hard to get people to look at him, for whatever reason,” Coury said.
If college scouts were watching against Tigard, they would have seen Lomax shine on offense. He caught a 33-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, and when the Lakers called his number on “Soul Train,” he delivered in a big way.
Lomax peeled back,took the handoff from Ruppe and got around the corner, where he was one-on-one with speedy Tigard senior Zach Floyd. He hesitated and juked past Floyd at the 10-yard line, finishing off a 38-yard touchdown run with an ill-conceived flip into the end zone.
“I saw Zach Floyd catching up to me, and I was thinking, ‘How the heck am I going so slow?’” Lomax said. “I thought I was faster than that, but it was like I was barely even moving. I can’t tell you what happened with the juke, because I’m not a juke kind of guy.”
His end-zone flip drew a blizzard of penalty flags for unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as cringes from all over Jeld-Wen Field (“I didn’t like it,” Coury said). But Lomax insisted he had no ill intent, he was simply excited to carry the ball, for once.
“In no way, shape or form did I want to rub it in or anything,” Lomax said. “In my entire football career, I’m pretty sure that is my first carry that I’ve ever had.”
The raw emotion that spurred the flip comes from the same place that has made him an inspirational leader. The Lakers are counting on Lomax’s desire – once a big question mark — to push them Saturday.
“He’s taken an unbelievable leadership role for us that’s been key to getting us to where we are,” Coury said. “There is nobody on our team that wants to win this thing more than he does.”
— Jerry Ulmer, The Oregonian (December 07, 2012)