STARKVILLE – Charles Mitchell carries the labels of captain and best player for Mississippi State. The first honor was bestowed by his teammates, the second by his coach.
That says a lot of Charles Mitchell. It doesn’t say nearly everything, though.
The senior safety was speaking with his mother, Connie, last week after being named captain.
“I always knew you were going to do good,” she told her youngest son. “Me and your daddy don’t like to lose, and we’re always competing, so we knew you were always going to be like that, too.”
Neal Mitchell laughed hard when told that story.
“We don’t like to lose at nothing,” he said.
The competitive streak that runs through the elder Mitchells and their two oldest sons – Jonathan and Neal Jr. – is present in Charles, with no dilution. Growing up, he would play pickup basketball games with older kids. In junior high, he’d work out with Neal Jr., who was on Clarksdale High School’s football team.
The two played together Charles’ freshman year, when Neal Jr. was a senior. They were on the same team, but they found other ways to compete, like seeing who could make the best mortar.
Neal Sr., who works full time as a shift sergeant for the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office, is also a masonry instructor at Coahoma Community College. He often took his sons along on brick-laying jobs, and they would turn that into a competition.
“Not only sports competition, whatever they tried to do, they’d always try to outdo the other,” Neal Sr. said.
‘Winner in life’
That kind of drive has brought Charles Mitchell success at every turn. He was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, then found the field immediately as an MSU freshman, playing in all 12 games.
He became a starter his sophomore season and has earned those aforementioned labels.
“He’s a winner, a winner in life,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Whatever he’s going to do in his life, he’s going to win at. You just see guys that have that ‘it.’ He has it, whether it’s going to school, whether it’s playing the piano, whether it’s being the captain of the football team, he’s got that ‘it’ that he’s going to be successful.”
That’s right, the son of an officer and bricklayer can tickle the ivory quite well. He’s been known to sit down at a hotel lobby piano the night before a game and play some Alicia Keys or Sha’ Simpson.
He’s been playing since fifth grade and has an electronic keyboard in his room to practice on. It’s hard to find the time, being a college athlete and all, but Mitchell plays when he can.
And as with his passion for football, Mitchell likes to share his passion for music. He recalled one of those impromptu piano recitals.
“One time there was this little girl there,” he said, “and her mom was with her, and she was telling me how she wanted to play the piano, and she was acting real shy. I got a chance to talk to her and tell her that it’s fun, you’ve got to be dedicated to it. Just trying to motivate her to play it.”
Motivation seems to come easy to Mitchell. All the praise heaped upon him over the years hasn’t cost him his edge. Captain, best player – those labels are just that to him, labels.
Mitchell said he’s not heard Mullen tell him he’s the Bulldogs’ best player, but the praise comes in other forms, such as compliments of his work ethic.
“Just hearing him say it is just more motivation that I can’t stop, because he’s done said it, everybody’s going to be watching me now,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got to keep going, keep pushing myself when I’m tired, when I’m down, when he says we did something and we didn’t, guys get mad – hey, it’s adversity. We’ve got to be able to play through it.
“We’re going to hit adversity all the time in life no matter what you’re doing. What you do to overcome it is what’s important.”
Charles Mitchell’s career stats
2008: 12 games (0 starts), 31 tackles, 0 INTs
2009: 12 games (12 starts), 64 tackles, 4 INTs
2010: 13 games (13 starts), 93 tackles, 0 INTs
Totals: 37 games (25 starts), 188 tackles, 4 INTs
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal