Life has changed for South Jones football and its quarterback John Mitchell. This time a year ago, the Braves were without their star QB and weren't preparing for a playoff game.
Now, finally healthy, Mitchell has helped guide the squad to its first playoff berth since 2009. The Braves completed the regular season last week with a 57-22 win over Wingfield.
Mitchell threw for 5 touchdowns and ran for another.
"He did a real good job of taking care of the football and getting the ball to the guys that were open..the ones who needed to be," Braves coach Cory Reynolds said. "Did a real good job on executing our offense and led for us having a big win."
Mitchell fractured his leg just a few weeks into the 2016 season. He was forced to endure the long process of rehab and leading from the sidelines.
"I mean I stayed with the team," Mitchell said. "I was a leader last year as a sophomore just being on the sideline. But it was real tough not being out there with them and getting to lead on the field. But on the sideline, I was still trying to do my part. Lots of rehab with Dan and the clinic and everything. It was tough."
That pain has given way to joy in 2017. Post injury, the junior has shown a nice blend of passing and running ability.
"He's gotten so much bigger and stronger," Reynolds said. "Another year in our strength and conditioning program. He's a dual sport athlete. He's played soccer and baseball before so he's getting training in other sports. He's getting coaching from other coaches. He's just a competitor. Then when you get him in the locker room and the film room he's just getting better in each and everything we're asking him to do."
Mitchell said he gained a better perspective from sitting out last season.
"I didn't really know (the) offensive line last year," he said. "As opposed to this year I can tell them what they're supposed to do and reading defenses is a lot better.
Mitchell said the Braves are used to being overlooked. This doesn't change come Friday when the team visits undefeated Hattiesburg in the first round of the class 5A playoffs.
"(We're) pretty gritty," Mitchell said. "I feel like a lot of times we're not picked to be in games that we're in. We just grind it out all week. We get in film, in practice and we're a bunch of gritty guys. We just get out there and play our hearts out."