With several hundred people in attendance, his father, Mario Mitchell, thanked the crowd and told them how much it meant to the family to see people responding to the tragedy in a positive way.
An emotional time for Mitchell’s family, former teammates and coaches at Opelika, and Auburn teammates such as Stephen Roberts, Markell Boston, Tray Matthews, Brandon Fulse, Nick Ruffin, Devonte Danzey, Alex Kozan, Kalvaraz Bessent, Myron Burton and Zach Wade in attendance, Mitchell said he couldn’t thank everyone enough for what they’ve done in the last 48 hours.
“All of you just keep praying for us,” Mitchell said. “I’m glad you’re here. I did not expect this. I thank you with a thousand tongues for all your support and phone calls. We just continue to solicit your prayers. I lost my son. I lost my best friend. He was truly his daddy’s best friend.”
The loss of Mitchell also impacts an Auburn football program that has experienced too much tragedy in the last three years. Coach Gus Malzahn said earlier on Monday that no matter how much heartache you experience in life it never prepares you or makes it any easier to handle.
“It's definitely challenging,” Malzahn said. “It's a tough time. We're a family. We get really close. Our players are close. Our coaches are close to our players, and it's a challenging time.”
As the head coach, Malzahn was one of the first people to learn of the incident and of Mitchell’s death. That phone call is one he said you never want to get because it’s news that impacts so many people and for a long time to come.
“It breaks your heart,” Malzahn said of Mitchell’s death. “It breaks your heart for the family, it breaks your heart for the football family. He was extremely close to a lot of our players and our coaches. He's got a great family, and it just breaks your heart.”
Mario Mitchell (white jacket) addresses the crowd.
The toughest part of losing a kid like Mitchell isn’t about what you lose on the football field, it’s about losing him off the field, Malzahn pointed out. From getting to know him in recruiting to building a relationship, he said the loss is felt a whole lot more than between the lines.
“Any time you recruit someone, you get to know them, you get to know their family,” Malzahn said. “He's from right down the road. I've known him a long time. And there's a lot of memories. I think about the off-the-field stuff, the type of person, the smile and everything that goes with it.”
From a player’s perspective the loss of a teammate and friend is one that is tough to deal with. Grown adults are used to losing family and friends because it’s a part of life. As a teenager or young adult the loss hits home very hard. That’s even more the case when it’s sudden.
In his time at Auburn, wide receiver Sammie Coates has had to deal with more than his share of devastating news with teammates and ex-teammates. While it may not be new, Coates said it never gets any easier to handle.
“I've been through a lot of tragedies since I've been here, and every time something like that happens, it breaks your heart,” Coates said. “You don't want to see anything like that happen to your family. It broke my heart when I heard it. That was the worst news I could imagine. We lost Lutz (Philip Lutzenkirchen). I knew Lutz real well. To get that with another teammate, another brother, it broke my heart.
“It's just painful. You don't want to lose anybody you care about...nobody that was part of your family. He was part of our family. It hurts. It still bothers me now, thinking about his family, his friends, all the people on this team. It's a tragedy. We just have to be strong, keep praying, give it all to God and let him take over.”
Visitation for Mitchell will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Harris Funeral Home in Opelika. The funeral service will be at noon Saturday at the Greater Peace Baptist Church, also located in Opelika.