Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
When Chris and Beth Mitchell welcomed their second son, an oversized, 11-and-a-half-pound bundle of joy named Brantly Shane, in January of 1997, the scouting reports at the University of Tennessee Medical Center began almost immediately.
"The nurses were taking wagers on whether I'd be a linebacker or a fullback at Tennessee," Brant Mitchell says today.
He added: "My dad would be in the elevator. My mom was in the hospital bed or whatever. I was just born. He would hear people talking: `Have you seen that baby on so-and-so floor? He is huge!' They were talking about me."
"Literally from the time I came out of the womb, I was supposed to go to Tennessee."
Those neonatal recruiting analysts only got it half-right. Mitchell did blossom into a college linebacker -- just not at the school they predicted.
Season openers always evoke strong emotions in players. But when Georgia Tech kicks off its 2017 season against Tennessee at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 4, those emotions might churn a little deeper for Mitchell, Georgia Tech's junior linebacker from Knoxville, Tenn. (who has since sprouted to a strapping 6-2 and 236 pounds).
"As a kid? Of course. Everybody does if you're from Tennessee," said Mitchell of his childhood dreams of playing for UT.
Despite a scholarship offer from the hometown Volunteers, Mitchell's dreams instead took a detour to The Flats, where he'll look to anchor the Tech linebacking corps in 2017. He finished his sophomore season ranked fourth on the team in tackles (71) and intercepted passes in back-to-back wins over Virginia and Georgia. His 12-tackle performance against the Cavaliers on November 19 earned him his first ACC Linebacker of the Week award. His production also spiked during the Yellow Jackets' season-ending four-game win streak: in Tech's first nine games, Mitchell averaged four tackles per game. Over the last four, he averaged eight.
"He's gotten better with his reads. He's gotten better with the quickness of his fits and his play entries. He's become a better blitzer, but he's still got work to do," Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said in the spring.
Growing up in Knoxville, Mitchell had a childhood that was steeped in Tennessee orange. He attended more than his share of games at Neyland Stadium, admiring the teams of head coach Philip Fulmer and the ferocious play of safety Eric Berry. His older brother, Josh, used to have a picture of Berry pummeling Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno as his screensaver. He admits, sheepishly, to knowing how to strum "Rocky Top," Tennessee's ubiquitous fight song, on the banjo. Mitchell first learned to play the instrument as a sophomore in high school.
His play on the football field commanded even greater attention. At the Webb School, a private, K-12 school in Knoxville, Mitchell became a two-time Tennessee Mr. Football in Division II-A. As a linebacker, he racked up 97 tackles and eight interceptions as a senior. He also rushed for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns, proving those maternity ward nurses had a keen eye for his future positions.
Mitchell says Tennessee was the first school to offer him a scholarship and he was ready to commit "that minute," but patience won out.
"My dad and I sat down. We made a decision for the rest of my life, not just for four years. College is supposed to be fun. You're supposed to have a good time but also, after you get done, if you don't play in the NFL -- which, that doesn't last long anyway -- you've got to go find a job. I wanted to put myself in the best position to be able to do that and be successful in my career outside of college," said Mitchell.
Eyeing a degree in mechanical engineering, Mitchell found a perfect match in Georgia Tech, which offered him a scholarship in its 2015 signing class. His commitment, though, didn't sit well with some of his distant, dyed-in-orange-wool relatives.
"Oh my gosh, man. Every time I'd post something on Facebook, I'd get comments -- `Well, Brant, you know what, we're happy you're doing good and stuff, but we're definitely going to be cheering for our Vols,'" he joked.
Three years later, Mitchell's decision hasn't affected his fondness for UT. When peppered with questions about it, both last week and at Tech's preseason media event, he answered them all genially. But with the season opener approaching, the junior is focused more on production than nostalgia. Tech's coaches are counting on Mitchell to fill the sizable void left by three-year starter P.J. Davis, who finished his career with 313 career tackles.
"P.J. was a great player. It's hard to replace something like that but, at the same time, we've got a lot of guys that are really good right behind him that are playing hard this year," Mitchell said.
He should have experience beside him, with senior Terrell Lewis, junior Victor Alexander and sophomore David Curry all having significant playing time at outside linebacker under their belts. Mitchell has also taken an active role coaching up the Jackets' younger linebackers, a group that includes true freshmen T.D. Roof, Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Jaquan Henderson.
"I've tried to help them out as much as I can. When I came in, I was clueless. I think that really helps them to develop, especially when you have somebody that's on the team with you. Not coming from a coach, but coming from somebody that's been in your position," he added.
Mitchell has since switched majors at Tech, from mechanical engineering to finance. His role on the field is also likely to change, from a steady, understated contributor to a featured, sideline-to-sideline prowler. It's all made for a busy preseason for Mitchell, who has had to navigate a blizzard of ticket requests for the September 4 opener.
But when his family looks out on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf on Labor Day night, they'll find their pride and joy trailing the Wreck, not running through the Power T. Brant Mitchell might have been raised on Rocky Top, but come September 4, he'll look to start a dream season with a win over his one-time dream school.