They say the toughest thing as a parent is to have to bury a child. I can’t imagine what my friend Mario Mitchell and his family are going through today. A life full of promise gone in the blink of an eye. It’s a big blow to the family, friends, Auburn football program, and communities of Opelika and Auburn.
It’s also a blow to the people who cover these kids and get to know them on a daily basis.
Much like thinking back on seeing Phillips as a junior at Handley High School or remembering Lutzenkirchen’s amazing catch at Lassiter High, I still remember the first time I saw Mitchell on the football field. It was the spring before his junior year and Coach Brian Blackmon told me about a young kid I needed to pay attention to on his team, and was he right.
A dynamic playmaker, Mitchell became the focal point for the Bulldogs as a junior and never looked back on the way to the state title game. It looked like just the start for Mitchell as he got an Auburn offer and committed to the Tigers before his senior season, but a knee injury kept him off the field his final year for the Bulldogs.
Through it all Mitchell never lost the hope that he would get on the field and be successful. That carried over to his freshman season on the Plains as he showed a ton of promise as the future of the tight end/H-Back position for the Tigers.
Now we’ll never get to know just what Mitchell could have done and that’s a shame. The biggest shame of it all is that a young life has been lost once again and leaves behind a grieving family and group of friends wondering why. That’s a question we’ll never be able to answer, but hopefully we won’t have to ask it again for a very long time.
Will The Thrill
The return of Will Muschamp to the Auburn football program is a huge step forward for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers following an up and down 2014 season. After giving up points in bunches the second half of the year, there is almost nowhere to go but up for Auburn’s defense in year one of Muschamp’s tenure and he is a coach who can make it happen. While there will be a lot of key players to replace, the talent level should be good enough to see the Tigers play defense more effectively next fall.
Perhaps the best news for the situation is the defense doesn’t have to be great with Malzahn’s offense on the other side--just average this year would have been good enough to win 10 games this season and maybe more. Auburn lost games while scoring 38 points against Texas A&M and 44 against Alabama. While the offense contributed to both losses with key turnovers, in the end you shouldn’t lose a game scoring that many points.
It has been a seven years since Auburn fielded a defense that finished in the Top 50 in the country in total defense (29th in 2008). Since that time the Tigers have finished 68th in 2009, 60th in 2010, 81st in 2011, 79th in 2012, 87th in 2013 and 61st this year. There is no doubt in my mind that Muschamp can improve those numbers in his first year and if he does it could be a fun ride for the Tigers in 2015.