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Mitchell Wilcox, a Tarpon Springs native, will be expecting around 50 friends and family members in attendance when he shows up for the 95th annual Shrine Bowl on Saturday.

Tropicana Field, where the yearly all star game has been played since 2012, sits just an hour south of where Wilcox played at Tarpon Springs High School and a half hour from Raymond James where he played his college ball while attending the University of South Florida.

“That was one of the main things, why I wanted to stay close to home,” Wilcox said about playing his college ball right down the road from his home town. “To play some big time football where my family could come see it, my friends could come see it. It was really a key decision factor for why I chose there but I really feel like I ended up where I should have and I really can’t thank USF enough.”

Wilcox finished his career at USF with 100 receptions, 1,326 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, five of those touchdowns coming as a senior. In his time with the Bulls, Wilcox rewrote multiple records despite playing under three different offensive playcallers in four seasons. The dangerous pass-catcher set USF’s single-game record for receptions by a tight end, single-season records for receptions and receiving yards by a tight end and career receiving yards by a tight end.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Wilcox said about playing under three separate offensive coordinators. “Two different coaching styles and I really had three offensive schemes that I had to pick up in my time there. It’s really a lot of growth, I had to take it for what it was and adjust as best you can. [It was] different styles of coaching for sure, so you just have to learn quick.”

“I used this year under Coach Kerwin Bell as personal growth for [my] football IQ, learning a more complex system. This was by far the most complex system I learned in my time there. I really just used it for personal growth and working on my craft.”

But now that his college days are over, it’s been a life dedicated to training and preparation since his final game in Ray Jay. Wilcox has been training with EXOS in San Diego, only flying back to Florida this past week for the Shrine Bowl.

“I flew out to Cali., that’s where I’m training,” Wilcox said. “It’s really just been a whirlwind. You’ve just got to eat, sleep and grind, workout and repeat. I flew back and I’m excited to be here and compete.”

But the trip home will be short-lived as it’s back to the grind once almost immediately once the game is over.

“I’ll get to spend Saturday night with my family after the game, get to go home and see my family,” Wilcox said. “And then Sunday morning I fly out to California and get back to training. I think they’ll give me a half-day off and then the second half of the day will be workouts. I’ll be there and ready to go.”

As far as his strengths and weaknesses, Wilcox sees himself as primarily a receiving threat, but added that he’s a well-rounded tight end who can still improve in some areas, specifically his ability as a blocker.

“I feel like I’m a pass-catcher, a route runner, I’m going to be able to create separation for myself, get open, I’m a downfield threat,” Wilcox said. “I also feel like I’m more of a well-rounded threat. [But I need to work on] sustaining blocks longer, that’s a thing that I’ve been trying to work on, just second level blocking.”

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