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Friday, September 29, 2023


How UH’s Donavan Mutin ‘became the game’

UH football head coach Dana Holgorsen has referred to senior linebacker Donavan Mutin as the “heartbeat” of the Cougars' defense. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH football head coach Dana Holgorsen has referred to senior linebacker Donavan Mutin as the “heartbeat” of the Cougars’ defense. | Courtesy of UH athletics

As a student-athlete at Klein Collins High School, Donovan Mutin heard something from his linebackers coach, Michael Troutman, that struck a chord with him.

“He always used to tell me ‘All battles are won or lost before they’re ever fought,’” Mutin said.

Looking back years later, the 6-foot senior linebacker credits that saying for changing the way he approached each game.

Love for the game

When Troutman looks back on his time coaching Mutin at Klein Collins, one thing stands out above the others — the pure love Mutin showed towards football.

“Football’s not just a game to him,” Troutman said. “It is life to him. It became part of his lifestyle. It became part of the culture that he created for himself in becoming a football player.”

Troutman described Mutin as a “sponge” who loves to be coached and soak up every last drop of information he can acquire.

Mutin’s thirst for knowledge and willingness to listen to others was evident early on during his time at Klein Collins.

Troutman recalls one moment in particular that he believes changed the way Mutin approached the game ever since.

As a sophomore on the varsity team, Mutin failed to fill the gap and take on a blocker with the level of physicality Troutman expected him to during one game. When this play was shown during the team’s film session in the days afterward after the game Troutman called Mutin out in front of all his teammates.

Mutin’s response to being called out by a guy he considers a father figure was when Troutman knew that Mutin was a different breed of a player.

“When I called him out, I think that was a turning point,” Troutman said. “Instead of shying away from it, he embraced it. He embraced it because he knew that I cared for him.”

Mutin didn’t want to make the same mistake again. From that point on, his preparation for each day, whether it was just a practice or it was Friday night under the big lights, reached another level, according to Troutman.

 “Donavan took (his preparation) to the next level,” Troutman said. “He was part of the game. He became the game.”

Letting nothing slip by

There’s a reason why UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk refers to Mutin as the Peyton Manning of the Cougars’ defense.

The same thing Troutman saw from Mutin at Klein Collins, Belk sees every day from the captain of his defense.

“His preparation shows in his performance,” Belk said. “I would say he’s definitely in the top two or three guys that I’ve been around as far the way that he prepares.”

Mutin’s teammates see it too.

UH senior defensive end Derek Parish needed just one word to encapsulate Mutin’s preparation — immaculate.

“Donnie is going to know where the right tackle is born in the hospital, wherever he was, or the quarterback or the receiver,” Parish said. “He dives deep into it and I think that’s what makes him such a great player.”

While Mutin would not give out all his secret sauce to how he prepares for an opponent, he did reveal that it starts from the moment the schedule drops each season.

“I’m watching dudes all offseason,” Mutin said. “When we get our schedule, I’m watching dudes. I’m watching their games from last year. I’m on their roster.”

By doing a deep dive into each opponent on the front end of things, game week becomes a time of fine-tuning his craft rather than scrambling to learn a bunch of information days before he’s put under the bright lights.

“During the week, I’m for sure diving in and just tightening up,” Mutin said. “But a lot of the work goes in on the front end so that when I get to this moment it’s already engrained, it’s already instilled, it’s already cemented.”

Hour after hour, Mutin dissects everything there is to know about the upcoming opponents. 

If an opponent got a new offensive coordinator, Mutin’s going to learn every school that that coach previously coached at, their playcalling style and any other piece of information he can find about that coach. Any returning players on the rosters of UH’s opponents, Mutin will break down each and every game they played in, learning their tendencies. 

Nothing gets past Mutin.

“He looks for the little things,” Parish said. “He’s down with the details.”

What is Mutin’s secret to his ability to notice the smallest of things that the average player and even some coaches miss when studying an opponent?

It all goes back to his unconditional love for the sport of football.

“His attention to detail comes back to him loving the game,” Troutman said. “That comes back to him not only playing the game but being part of the game.”

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