Entering the summer of 2016, Tee Mitchell was coming off a 2015 season filled with accolades: He was a unanimous All-SoCon Second Team selection, he totaled 1,135 all-purpose yards, and he was an Academic All-American.
By the end of the summer, Mitchell was suspended from the team for one season for a violation of team rules.
“I doubted whether I wanted to play football,” Mitchell said. “I was upset. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost for a while.”
But he didn’t quit. Now, 20 pounds heavier, Mitchell returned to the team over the summer—something Head Coach Bobby Lamb said he’s extremely happy about.
“The guy’s got a lot of ability,” Lamb said. “He got up and spoke to the team the other night, and it was a really good speech. [He’s] a guy that I think wants to prove himself.”
Proving himself and regaining the coaches’ trust was something Mitchell said he had to do after his suspension. After questioning his future for several months, Mitchell declined a transfer offer from Iowa State and decided to re-devote himself to playing football as a Mercer Bear.
“Around November, I got my head back on straight, and I was like, ‘Hey, I have a football season coming up. I can either fall off by the wayside and not do anything, or I can try to make the most of this time while I’m away,’” Mitchell said.
He trained at Georgia Sports Performance in Atlanta with Earl Williams, who works with former professional athletes. Mitchell said they worked on speed and weight training.
“I really made it my mission to come back and make an impact,” Mitchell said. “I moved up to Atlanta and trained for about seven months—just wanted to come back the best I could. I had a lot of time to reflect by myself, and I really think I really found out all the things I could fix.”
He did so by spending time in the film room—a lot of time. Mitchell still had game film from Mercer, so he would watch tapes for four to six hours a day, then spend four or five hours training his body.
“He took advantage of that year away,” Offensive Coordinator Casey Vogt said. “We’re excited to get him back in the mix and get him going because he has some special skills. He can change direction and accelerate. Last time we had him, he was about 185 pounds. He’s 205 now.”
Lamb said Mitchell has “looked great” throughout the summer and “didn’t miss a beat.” The now-improved relationship with his coaches is a product of the communication they had during his suspension.
Throughout the process, Mitchell said he kept in contact with many of the close friends he had on the team. But there was a rough patch with the coaches, initially.
“I lost their trust. They kind of lost faith in me,” Mitchell said. “I had a chance to recalibrate and actually have renewed relationships with the coaching staff during that time away. They gained trust in me while I was gone. I believe I came closer with them during my suspension than I was when I was here.”
Because of a deep backfield now with Alex Lakes, Georgia Tech transfer C.J. Leggett and freshmen Tyray Devezin and Rashad Haynes, Mitchell’s role is still undecided within the offense. He said his goal is to be the starter.
Regardless of his role, he is back where he left off: Tee Mitchell, Mercer running back, No. 28. Fits to a “Tee.”