As far back as his early days at Gaither High, where Carlton Mitchell started out as a punter, he envisioned getting a shot at the NFL someday.
That was his dream the first time he stepped onto the field, and that's his dream today as he participates in Pro Day at the University of South Florida.
"I'm ready," he said Monday. "I understand the NFL doesn't need me."
Of course, Mitchell wasn't alone chasing that castle in the sky at Gaither, and he won't be alone at USF today. Playing in the NFL is a fantasy many young players flirt with until reality convinces them otherwise.
But Mitchell kept on dreaming after he accepted a scholarship to USF and established himself as the Bulls' No. 3 receiver his first two seasons. Suddenly, the NFL seemed within reach.
Mitchell's ambition turned more urgent last summer when he worked closely with USF receivers coach Phil McGeoghan on creating a plan of the day - or POD as they called it.
"We talked about compartmentalizing your life and taking command of your day," McGeoghan said. "That was something we charted and kept track of to smooth out the rough edges of his day. He was accepting. Not everyone is real accepting when you take control of their day.
"There was a complete transparency in what he was doing. He cut out a lot of the distractions that he had as a sophomore and freshman."
The renewed focus paid immediate dividends. Mitchell had a team-high 40 catches for 706 yards last season. In the final game of his junior season, he hauled in six receptions for 94 yards in USF's win over Northern Illinois in the International Bowl.
Less than a week later, Mitchell decided to pass up his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
"It was always in the back of my mind," Mitchell said. "I took every practice and every game as if it was my last. But I didn't make up my mind until talking to my mom and a friend after the bowl game."
Since early January, Mitchell's stock has climbed faster than nearly any player in the draft, thanks to a strong showing at the NFL combine last month. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and with speed to burn, Mitchell has gained enough traction in the draft that at least one NFL coach told him not to tell anyone of their private workout.
"The combine was huge," he said. "I know for a fact I was definitely under the radar at first. I wasn't in a high-powered offense. I don't have a lot of big stats."
What Mitchell has is upside, a favorite word when talking about a player's potential.
"He is unlikely to be drafted in the first round, but if he catches the ball well at his on-campus workout March 30 he should move into the second round," one scout told The Sporting News at the NFL combine, comparing him to Maurice Stovall of the Bucs.
The first mock drafts after Mitchell announced he was leaving school had him a late-round pick at best. Now most projections have him going in the second or third round.
"It doesn't surprise me, because he is a physical specimen," McGeoghan said. "He has worked very, very hard, and he is a focused individual right now."
Mitchell has purposefully stayed away from all the speculation, spending nine weeks in Miami working out under Pete Bommarito and the past couple of weeks at USF.
"I rarely watch 'SportsCenter,'" he said. "I stay home and watch a lot of cartoons. I just keep to myself to keep my mind away from all that."
In other words, he has been too busy compartmentalizing his life.
"I consider myself to be different than others," he said. "I beat to my own drum. I'm very dedicated and a very determined person. Seeing myself here, where I am today, and going back to think about the Gaither days, the mind is so powerful. I could really see myself in this spot back in the day."