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Thursday, September 21, 2023


How football helped UH linebacker Donavan Mutin find his voice

For the second consecutive season, linebacker Donavan Mutin was voted as one of the captains of the UH football team. | Courtesy of UH athletics

For the second consecutive season, linebacker Donavan Mutin was voted as one of the captains of the UH football team. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Donavan Mutin will have no problem finding a job once his football career comes to an end. Whether it’s as a politician, motivational speaker, philosopher or football coach, the 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker just has a way with words and speaks with such passion that naturally tugs at a person’s heartstrings.

UH associate head coach and defensive coordinator Doug Belk even calls Mutin the “Peyton Manning of the UH defense” for the way his voice commands the Cougars’ defense.

Despite what it might seem, using his voice to make a profound impact on those around him has not always been a natural strong suit for Mutin. Rather it’s something he has had to grow in and become more comfortable with.

“My whole life I’ve been introverted,” Mutin said. “I’m very shy. I don’t have a lot of friends. I’ve always been very quiet. Outside of football, it’s hard for me to be around people and speak to people and be interactive. It’s just not natural for me.”

Mutin, who didn’t start playing football until his late middle school years, always has had the gift of a keen eye for noticing things that could be improved both on and off the field to make the team better. But as a player who wasn’t very good on the C-team when he first began playing football, Mutin didn’t feel like voicing what he saw to his teammates would make a difference.

“As I got into high school and I started working out, training and everything I would see things going on in the workout, I would see things going on at practice that I wanted to say but I didn’t have the confidence to stand and say it because I didn’t feel like my words carried any value,” Mutin said.

Mutin’s high school coaches, however, noticed the way he carried himself and his work ethic and encouraged him to speak up to his teammates. 

“These men told me ‘We understand what you’re doing. We see how you work every day. Don’t be ashamed to stand up and do that. You have it in you and it’s natural. Go speak and go tell them and I’ll bet they’ll get behind you,’” Mutin said.

This might have been the best piece of advice Mutin was ever given because it gave him the confidence in his voice that he had always been searching for growing up. 

Mutin slowly started speaking out, and just as his coaches suggested, his teammates started to gravitate toward him. There was power and value in everything he said so they were inclined to listen to him.

While Mutin is naturally gifted in seeing things that the typical football player doesn’t see, many of the things he noticed and voiced his opinion about weren’t even that complex, but rather simple things that every player knew they needed to do but didn’t put it into action.

“The hardest things in life to do are the things that you know that you should do. And these are the things that naturally I just see,” Mutin said. “We can do this a little better. Hand placement can be this, steps can be that. We just got to get off the field better. We’ve got to speak to each other in a more positive way, in a more edifying way. Different things like that, I think of naturally.”

Mutin’s keen eye and newfound voice helped him stand out when he was recruited, putting him on the Cougars’ radar.

“From the very first time we met, I knew he was going to be extremely unique in a very good way,” said UH linebackers coach Archie McDaniel. “There’s not much that Donny misses. He sees everything.”

McDaniel was not wrong in his initial assessment of Mutin as the linebacker made an immediate impact on the UH football program from the moment he stepped on campus in 2018. From seeing action in 10 games as a freshman to becoming a starter as a sophomore and eventually catapulting his way to captain status as a junior, Mutin has been the heartbeat of the Cougars’ defense during the Dana Holgorsen era.

“He is the walls and the guy that holds the rope to keep everybody together, all 11,” said senior defensive lineman Derek Parish. “We’re blessed to have him.”

While Mutin is humble, not holding an elevated view of himself compared to his teammates, he has a desire to be great both as an individual and as a team, so he makes it his responsibility to ensure that the team is getting each and everything out of each day by making his presence felt within the locker room. 

“As I come into the building every day I feel obligated to stand for something and make sure that things go a certain way if we’re going to be great,” Mutin said.

The UH football team rallies around Donavan Mutin before the 2021 Birmingham Bowl in which the Cougars defeated Auburn 17-13. | Courtesy of UH athletics

The UH football team rallies around Donavan Mutin before the 2021 Birmingham Bowl in which the Cougars defeated Auburn 17-13. | Courtesy of UH athletics

This is evident in everything Mutin does. Whether it’s a pregame walkthrough, lifting weights, a film session or anything in between, Mutin attacks it with laser-sharp focus because he has learned how one small detail can be the difference between winning and losing.

“When you look at the things Donny from the communication standpoint, the way he prepares, the way he identifies formations and just his entire approach to practices and games, that’s his thing, that’s his niche, that’s what makes him special,” McDaniel said.

It’s easy to notice the impact Mutin’s sheer presence has on the UH football program on Saturdays in the fall. But what goes unnoticed is the gratitude that fills Mutin’s heart each time he steps onto the field, thankful for the opportunity to play the very sport that helped him find his voice.

“Football gave me an avenue to really stand on what I believe in,” Mutin said.

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