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Union's Mitchell picks Virginia Tech to continue football career

By KEVIN MAYS, kmays@timesnews.net • Dec 15, 2017 at 6:44 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Virginia Tech’s football program got an early Christmas present Friday. 

Complete with Tech’s theme song of “Enter Sandman” when the Hokies enter the football field for home games, Union senior James Mitchell announced his commitment to play football at the school next fall.

“In the fall of 2018, I’ve decided I will play football at Virginia Tech,” Mitchell said in front of a gym full of Union students, teachers, supporters and media members. 

With a big smile on his face, the all-state senior donned a Hokies cap as cheers rang throughout the gym.

Mitchell has been the highest recruited prep football star in Southwest Virginia for the last two seasons. Some schools, including Virginia Tech, have been after the honor student since his sophomore year. A total of 16 NCAA Division I schools recruited Mitchell. He narrowed the choices to three — Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia. 

He said he reached his decision about three weeks ago, but wanted the extra time to make sure he had made the right choice. The decision took a tremendous amount of pressure off his shoulders, Mitchell said.

“It’s just a relief to get it out there,” said Mitchell. “I’ve been wanting to tell some people, honestly. But I wanted it to be a surprise for everybody. The support I got today was unreal.”

The choice was not an easy one, but one that the football and basketball star said took lots of thought and lots of prayer. Ultimately, Mitchell’s commitment to the Hokies came after the Hokies showed a commitment to him.

“I love the staff. They’ve been great to me. They watched me play my sophomore year. As soon as they got hired they came to watch us play at Clarke County. They’ve been after  me since then and that means a lot to me,” said Mitchell. 

“Once I started going on visits, I started realizing that this feels like home to me and that’s where I want to be.”

Mitchell saw Virginia Tech play twice at home this year and once during his junior season. He said the environment around Lane Stadium was definitely a factor that drew his attention.

“That goes along with the fan base. It’s amazing. I mean who wouldn’t want to play for something like that,” he said.

Mitchell’s father, Jimmy, said the family knew about the decision for about a week. 

“He didn’t really come out and say but he said that’s where he was leaning,” the elder Mitchell said. “He made the decision. I like Tech. I like the coaches there. It’s going to be tough football. I was proud of him. I would have been proud of him with either one he would have picked, but I was tickled he picked Tech.”

Jimmy Mitchell, a pastor at a local church, said the recruiting process took a toll on the family a little. But also had its good points.

“It was stressful a little bit, but one of the things that we realized was we had a lot of God time. We were always in the car and we always talked about what does the Lord want in our lives. We were able to talk to James about the Lord a lot. It was stressful, but we had a lot of family time,” he said. 

Mitchell’s accolades for this season are plenty. He was selected as the Region 2D offensive player of the year and was the co-defensive player of the year on the regional team. He was also named as the Mountain 7 District player of the year for both offense and defense. In addition, he was named to the VHSL all-state first team at three positions — tight end, defensive back and punt returner.

He holds a rare distinction of being named first-team all-state in all four seasons of his varsity career.

“We’re not sure if that has ever happened before, but if it has it’s not been very often,” said Union athletic director Mike Goforth.

Athletic ability aside, Virginia Tech will be getting a quality student and person, Union Principal Dan Roop said.  

“James is a hard worker. Whether it be academically or athletically, James is a hard worker at what he does. He may have talent and he may have ability. But beyond that, he does the extra things that are necessary to make him successful,” said Roop. “James is humble. He can do something fantastic in a ballgame and be interviewed after the game is over.  And the first thing he talks about is he’s thankful to God for the gifts he’s been given, he’s thankful to his family for everything he has and he’s thankful to his teammates for all they’ve done to allow him to be successful. That’s huge.”

Roop said Mitchell always remembers “who he is and where he comes from. He remembers his family. He remembers his community.”

Mitchell’s basketball coach, Zack Moore, said Mitchell’s attitude helped make him the star he is.

“He’s hard-working, unselfish, dedicated, competitive, coachable and he’s a great teammate. Other players want to play with him. I think that’s one of the best compliments he can receive,” said Moore. “In the world of me, me, me, when a lot of athletes are all about their stats and their highlights and the publicity they’re getting, James has always been about team. That’s why other players want to play with him.

“The best thing about James is that he’s a good person. He cares about others and he just wants to do the right thing.”

Union football coach Travis Turner echoed Moore’s comments about the unselfish, team-oriented person that Mitchell is on the field and in life.

“He never worried about his stats. He never worried about not getting the ball enough. He wanted to do what’s best for the team. That’s the type of teammate he was. That’s the kind of character he’s got,” said Turner. 

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