Hoover, Ala.--Unable to play as his Opelika Bulldogs competed in the National Select 7-on-7 because of a knee injury suffered this summer, Auburn tight end commitment Jakell Mitchell has instead donned a coaching hat to help out until he can get back on the field.
Determined to play for the Bulldogs again before his high school career is finished, Mitchell said until then he’ll just play his part and try to be a leader for his teammates.
“I think I had a pretty big role on the team as a player, but now that I can’t do that and show that I’ve got to find a different way to do that,” Mitchell said. “That’s just by encouraging them to try to get better every day.”
Playing without his top offensive player is a difficult thing for Opelika Coach Brian Blackmon, but the loss of Mitchell is felt deeper than the football field. A leader and one of his best workers on and off the field, the head Bulldog said that while he’s going to be without him for at least the first two months of the regular season and maybe longer, he has seen his start contribute in other ways.
“The biggest thing was when we were going through preparations and Jakell called and asked what time we were leaving,” Blackmon said. “Knowing that he can’t play it was important enough for him to be on that bus and be there for his teammates. He’s just trying to find an impact on this team.
"He’s been great. He was trying to pump them up and working with Kyle Fourtenbary, a guy that is replacing him. He’s having a great camp. I even saw him picking up trash under our tent. He’s doing the little things that high-character kids do to make an impact on their team.”
Mitchell coaches up teammate Marquise Wright
Focused on his rehab following knee surgery, Mitchell said that he’s determined to get back and play this season at Opelika and has a definite date in mind to be back on the field. Playing rival Auburn High in week nine of the regular season, Mitchell said that he wants to be back playing by then so he can get knock the rust off before the playoffs begin.
“Every day I wake up I think about our guys and how much I owe them if I gave up on myself and didn’t at least try to work to get back,” Mitchell said. “It drives me hard every day to get up and go to rehab and the rehab I do on my own.”
Mitchell is part of an Auburn recruiting class for 2014 that is building steam heading into the season. Last weekend he had the chance to join fellow commitments such as Tre Williams, DeShaun Davis, Justin Thornton, Kamryn Pettway and Stanton Truitt as the group hung out and got to know each other even better. He said that time was great for him as he continues to grow closer to his future teammates.
“It’s exciting to be around those guys,” Mitchell said. “They are like me. I have that passion for the game and love to win. That’s who I want to be around, guys who want to win and want to have fun playing the game. That was the most exciting part of last weekend.
“I think we’re building something special,” he added. “Those guys are very passionate about the game and that’s what it takes. That’s what Coach (Gus) Malzahn is building around, passionate guys that love the game. That will win games.”
Mitchell is determined to get back on the field this fall and play with his teammates one final time and it’s something that Blackmon is rooting for as well, but not just for his football ability. Wanting to see his leader play the game he loves one final time on the red and black of Opelika, Blackmon said he just deserves it.
“Because I care about him outside of just being a football player, it’s hard to watch him when he’s standing on the sidelines because he’s such a driven kid,” Blackmon said. “He wants to compete all the time.
"His rehab seems to be going well," Blackmon added. "He is going three or four days a week and is doing things outside of there to really push himself. He has a goal and a plan to try to get back and play with his teammates before he ever makes that jump to the next level. Our hope and prayer is that he can do that and he is fortunate enough to heal fast and get back to us.”
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