Jon Cooper | The Good Word
This is the latest in a summer-long #TGW series featuring student-athletes participating in the 2018 Fifth Street Bridge Program, Georgia Tech athletics’ summer internship program. For more on the Fifth Street Bridge Program and a full list of this summer’s participants, click HERE.
As a middle linebacker, Brant Mitchell knows the value of real estate and doesn't give an inch easily or cheaply.
The same mentality he takes on the field with him Saturday afternoons is translating to the business world this summer, as he's interning at Dewberry Capital, one of the Southeast's leading real estate developers.
It's been eye-opening.
"I've been here a month and a half and I've learned more than I ever expected to," said Mitchell, the Knoxville, Tenn., native and senior co-captain for the Yellow Jackets. "I've been helping out in the leasing department with John Freeman, the director of leasing. He's in charge of scouting out potential tenants to come fill our spaces and several properties across the Southeast. So I've been doing market research, getting online and seeing who's trending upward in the retail sector, restaurant business, anything, to try to get those prospective tenants in our spots and produce some cash flow for us.
"Another thing I've been doing is working with property management," he added. "We've got an apartment complex down in Charleston, called Oyster Park. I've been talking to our property-management team down there and trying to figure out how we can lower the expenses and, obviously, make as much money as we can and be as efficient as we can. I've been all over the place."
Helping Mitchell navigate all this are two familiar names for Georgia Tech football faithful -- John Dewberry and Matt Connors.
Dewberry is the president and CEO of Dewberry Capital, which he began in 1989 with a mere $5,000 and has built into one of the Southeast's leading real-estate developers. He is also a Georgia Tech alumnus (industrial management, '85), was a three-year quarterback for the Yellow Jackets from 1983-85 and was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. Adding to his legend on The Flats is the fact that he transferred to Tech after his freshman year at Georgia and quarterbacked the Yellow Jackets to the only wins in program history by unranked GT teams over ranked UGA squads.
Connors played B-back on The Flats from 2010-14 and was a big-play maker, especially on special teams -- a game-changing blocked punt against Tulane in 2014 got Dewberry's attention -- and was part of the 2014 Orange Bowl Champions.
This success story is uniquely Georgia Tech.
Dewberry and Mitchell met courtesy of former director of sports medicine Jay Shoop, while Dewberry was rehabbing a quad injury in the Georgia Tech training room.
"Jay Shoop said, `You need to meet this guy, Brant Mitchell.' So I met Brant, I was quite impressed with him," Dewberry recalled, adding that Mitchell's speech at last year's Georgia Tech Scholarship Endowment Dinner -- which Shoop recommended Dewberry watch -- helped seal the deal. "I watched it on video and I asked Matt Connors, `What do you know about this guy?' He said, `Oh, he's a great guy!' I said, `Why don't you find out if he's looking for work this summer.' I met Brant, thought he was great and I thought, `I think this guy could work here.'"
Once Mitchell got to Dewberry Capital, Connors became his guide.
"I've learned a lot from him," said Mitchell. "He's an incredibly smart guy. Anything he does, he gives as much effort as possible. He's a perfectionist. He wants to do it right. He's incredible at what he does. He knows a lot and he's taught me quite a lot about it. I've still got a lot to learn but I'm taking in as much as I can."
Connors has already taken it all in, having traveled the same road that Mitchell is currently on. He began at Dewberry Capital as a finance intern in 2015, loved the job and found himself a perfect fit for the company, where he's now a finance associate.
Connors and Mitchell, who missed playing together at Tech by one year, hit it off immediately in the business world.
"Georgia Tech -- the letterwinners and the alumni base in general -- are a very altruistic community. The group revels in the success of others, empowering younger classes to become smarter, be successful," said Connors, who worked at Dewberry Capital by day while earning his MBA at Tech at night in 2015. "When you're exposed to that, it's contagious. Then the responsibility comes on to you to pass it along to the next generation."
Connors has guided Mitchell through the labyrinth of responsibilities.
"You have to wear a lot of hats. You have to make yourself valuable. It's very entrepreneurial in that aspect," he said. "It's baptism by fire. I'm going to give him something, try to give him some guidelines, throw it out there, see what he can do with it, then we'll regroup, kind of analyze, review."
It's a new and complicated world, but Mitchell's getting it and knows he always can go to Connors for help with what he doesn't know
In only six weeks on the job, he's also learned plenty about his boss.
For example, Mitchell didn't know that Dewberry quarterbacked Georgia Tech to its first ACC win (a 20-10 win on Oct. 8, 1983 at NC State), that he led unranked Tech teams to wins over No. 18 Georgia (35-18 in 1984) and the No. 20 Bulldogs (20-16 in 1985). What he did know was his business record.
"I knew who [Dewberry] was and knew that he had a good reputation of being really successful and wanted to work for him," said Mitchell.
In an office setting he's seen the confidence with which Dewberry played, a confidence big enough to turn down Bear Bryant's recruiting offers at Alabama, and a confidence that was contagious but tempered with a sense of humility.
"At the end of the day, whether you're the bold guy, like I played, or whether you're a quiet guy like the great Shawn Jones, who led us to our  national championship, you know inside who you are and you have great confidence in that or you wouldn't be able to win," he said. "Football, as is life, is a humbling thing. We all understand when we take the field -- at least I did -- that Georgia's better than we are. I didn't tell my teammates that but I knew that. But not today. There is a confidence that says, `They might beat me the other six days of the week but not today.'
"At this game, I'm the best at it and every day's a game. That's what I try to express to them," he added. "Every day we come to win. That's why guys like Brant Mitchell and Matt Connors will always have a place in the Dewberry crew. I also like the continuity of Matt vouching for Brant and then Brant vouching for the next guy, perhaps, in the future. I don't think there's any doubt that Brant Mitchell will be successful. Matt Connors already is. It's a way of thinking that people have. That type of person, I get along with."
The three generations of Yellow Jackets, each with a piece of the hedges from Athens -- a tradition that Dewberry's 1984 team started -- are links in the Georgia Tech chain of paying it forward. Dewberry similarly experienced this under the tutelage of the late Kim King, who spent nearly 40 years as a beloved part of the Georgia Tech football family.
"Kim gave me the opportunity. His best piece of advice was to understand finance," he said, adding with a laugh. "It was also pertinent, because we were a bunch of nerds at Georgia Tech that understand numbers."
Mitchell is grateful for the life lessons he's already learned and hopes there will be more down the road.
"First of all, we're going to see how this season goes and I'll definitely train for Pro Day and see what happens in that regard," he said. "As far as continuing a career, I would love to do this. Something I've really taken from this is just to be able to kind of take whatever's thrown at you and make the most of it. If you don't know what's going on, ask somebody. The resources are there. You can find them. That's something that Matt's been great about. Eventually you learn that with whatever's thrown at you, you can accomplish it or you can find a way to get it done."