Mitchell was good enough to draw the eye of several college football coaches when he played in high school in North Carolina. But the coaches lost interest when they found out that Mitchell played with an insulin pump to help treat his Type 1 diabetes.
Mitchell was diagnosed with the disease in 1999 when he was 5, but he continued to play sports and live his life as a typical kid.
When it was time to think about playing football at the collegiate level, however, Mitchell was told his health made it too risky.
“They said it was too much of a liability,” he said while nursing an injured ankle late in the game on the sideline of his semi-pro league game at the Kingsport Boys and Girls Club field on Saturday night.
Mitchell’s team, the Tri-State Wolves, is based in Kingsport.
From January through June, Mitchell makes the five-hour drive from his home in Fayetteville, N.C., to Kingsport about twice a month to play home games for the Wolves. The other two weekends, he’s driving somewhere else to play in one of the Wolves’ Independent American Football League games.
The 24-year-old Mitchell has been making the football journeys for the past four years.
He said not playing in college left him with an empty feeling, a void he’s trying to fill by playing for the Wolves.
“I love the game,” Mitchell said. “I feel like I left some stuff out there on the field when I was finished in high school. Since I didn’t get to play in college, I didn’t want to leave anything out there.”
As far as health concerns and playing with a pump, Mitchell said he’s been living his life with it for a long time and he’s not concerned.
“I’m fine. I have it, but I just go out there and play and I just live my life,” he said.
Not getting to play college football is something that also drives 26-year-old Anthony Stewart.
Stewart, who lives in Johnson City, played his high school football at South Greene.
Stewart said he was offered a scholarship to play football at North Carolina State, but he lost that chance when he broke his collarbone late in his senior season.
But Stewart never lost his desire to play competitive football. This year, when the chance presented itself, he joined up with the Wolves.
“I love it. It’s something that I’ve missed,” Stewart said.
Playing competitive football is also a promise Stewart made to his father before he passed away when Stewart was only 18.
“My dad told me that he wanted me to keep doing what I loved to do and that was playing football,” Stewart said. “I’m just glad I got another chance to play.”
Like Mitchell and Stewart, the Wolves’ roster is full of players looking to have one more shining moment — that feeling they had when they played football in high school or college.
It seems crazy to some that men no long in their playing “prime” would continue to play such a physical game. But to the men who put on the pads, it’s just one more chance to live their dream.