Wiedmer: Turning down the Big Orange to become a Yellow Jacket

Wiedmer: Turning down the Big Orange to become a Yellow Jacket

August 13th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Pittsburgh wide receiver Tre Tipton (5) stretches for extra yardage while being tackled by Georgia Tech linebacker Brant Mitchell (51) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Photo by Fred Vuich

ATLANTA — The birth of any child is something of a miracle, never to be forgotten. Such fragility and such strength in a single package. Such loud noises exploding from a compact, 7- to 8-pound bundle of flesh and bones.

Or in the case of Georgia Tech junior linebacker Brant Mitchell, an 11 1/2-pound bundle of college football potential.

"I remember it like it was last week," his father Chris said of the scene that unfolded inside the University of Tennessee Medical Center's Labor and Delivery department on Jan. 30, 1997. "There were these two surgical techs, both of them guys. One of them looks at the other and says, 'Holy cow, this kid's going to be a nose tackle (for the Tennessee Volunteers). The other one says, 'No, he's a linebacker all the way.' It's amazing how right that second guy was."

Well, he was half right. Because while Mitchell has grown into quite a major college linebacker for the Yellow Jackets — he was fourth on the team in tackles last season and intercepted a pass to seal a victory over Georgia — when they face the Vols at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 4, he'll do so as as a foe rather than a friend of the Big Orange Nation.

Despite growing up in Rockwood, Tenn., playing his high school ball for the Webb School in Knoxville and pretty much bleeding Tennessee's pale orange from the time he was 5 years old, Mitchell said he accepted a scholarship to Tech in winter 2015 for the most mature of reasons: "I absolutely loved the Vols when I was a kid. But my dad and I sat down and made a (college) decision based on the rest of my life, because you can't play football forever. One day you've got to go out and find a job."

Tennessee loyalists might bristle at that insinuation, that a degree from Tech might become more valuable later in life than one from their school. And depending on one's major, it's no doubt a valid argument. But Mitchell headed to Tech planning to become a mechanical engineer. He performed so well in that major his first two seasons that he made the Atlantic Coast Conference academic honor roll.

But he also was barely sleeping at night due to the pressures and time commitments necessary to earn an engineering degree. So Mitchell recently switched to finance.

"I'm getting a little more sleep at night," he noted.

For those who might wonder if Tennessee coach Butch Jones went to sleep on Mitchell, it's complicated.

A star from his earliest years in the Rockwood public school system — "Brant was always the biggest kid on the team," his dad said with a chuckle — young Mitchell transferred to Webb before his sophomore year for both academic and athletic reasons. Due to TSSAA transfer rules, he was forced to sit out most of the 2012 football season.

"He wasn't eligible until the semifinals of the playoffs," Chris said. "In that very first game, he led the team in tackles and had a pick-six interception. It was like a fairy tale. Then he led the team in tackles again in the state title game, where he was named defensive MVP."

That got Mitchell noticed by Jones' staff. But Chris said fellow Webb star and current Vol Todd Kelly Jr. should take much credit for Brant becoming a household name among big-time Southern football recruiters.

"Almost every school in the country was recruiting Todd (who was a year ahead of Brant)," Chris said. "But any time a college coach came to Webb to recruit him, he'd tell them, 'If you've got a few minutes, let me introduce you to our middle linebacker, Brant Mitchell.' I think that says so much about the person TK Jr. is."

However, this was also about the time Jones was beginning to attract interest from five-star recruits, and Mitchell was viewed as a three-star. In the words of Chris Mitchell: "Things with UT got a little quiet for a while. Butch had offered Brant a scholarship, but we weren't hearing much from them."

Enter Tech.

"I think for that state (Tennessee), it was probably a little odd (Mitchell going to Tech)," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said Thursday. "But Brant was really interested in mechanical engineering then. I think he saw what we could offer him there, and he wanted it."

Three years later, Johnson says of Brant: "He's a guy who works hard. He's going to give you everything he's got every day."

Reached Friday night, 17 days from the UT-Tech showdown, Chris said of the dynamic of his son playing for Tech after growing up a Vols fan: "I don't know that words can describe it. Part of growing up in East Tennessee is being a Vols fan. That's just the way it is. My wife (Beth) and I are both from Rockwood. Everyone on both sides of the family is UT through and through, and as much of a dream come true as it would have been for all of us to see Brant run through the 'T,' this isn't just about football. This is my kid's life. I told him, 'We've stomped around this hill (UT) all your life and half of my life. It might be time to try something else.'"

For his part, Brant Mitchell says he's looking forward to facing Kelly but is avoiding any trash talk at the moment.

"Todd and I do talk back and forth, but I'm not much of a trash talker," he said. "I'd rather let the pads talk."

And just because truth is stranger than fiction, this won't be the only time Brant's college choice divides the Mitchell family. A cousin, Jordon McKinney — who's a redshirt sophomore from Dalton, Ga. — is a Georgia Bulldog.

But first things first. According to Chris, "We'd need a calculator" to add up all the ticket requests from friends and family for UT-Tech.

"We've probably got family members we've never heard of crawling out of the woodwork claiming to be cousins in need of tickets," he said with a laugh. "But I think it's a bigger deal for everybody else than Brant. For him it's just another football game he wants to win."

Perhaps, but it's certainly not the support Brant is used to receiving from those who know him best.

"Every time I post something on Facebook," he said, "Most of the folks back home write, 'We're pulling for you to do well, but we're rooting for the Vols.'"

Because when you grow up in East Tennessee, that's just the way it is.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com