Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
Lakewood Ranch High senior linebacker Drew Mitts makes it a point to attend the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium every January.
Mitts was born in St. Louis and started his football career there, before moving to Lakewood Ranch the summer before his seventh-grade season. While in St. Louis, Mitts trained at Run It Performance, owned by former NFL running back Arlen Harris. The two became close.
After Mitts moved away, Harris became one of the coaches on the “North” team of the Blue-Grey game, and since it was being played in Tampa, Harris told Mitts he should come out and watch the 2012 game. He did, and after the game, Mitts made a promise to himself that he was going to play in that game one day.
This year, his promise was fulfilled.
Mitts was selected to play for the South team at the 2019 game, held Jan. 5.
“I was super excited,” Mitts said. “I have been watching this game for a long time. It is awesome.
“This is basically a ‘Pro Bowl.’ It is a chance to prove guys from the Lakewood Ranch area can compete against the best.”
He is right. He played alongside guys like Etinosa Reuben, a three-star defensive end from Missouri who is committed to Clemson, and Traevon Kenion, a three-star wide receiver/tight end from South Carolina who is committed to the Southeastern Conference’s Gamecocks. And he held his own: Mitts finished with 4.5 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a forced fumble.
The most exciting part for Mitts? He was not nominated for consideration by Harris. He was nominated by former NFL safety Mark McMillian, a coach on the South team. This was not a “I know you, so I can get you in” deal. The honor was earned.
And boy, was it.
The process actually started before his senior football season when Mitts attended a combine event in Jacksonville in June. There, he did everything the pros do at combine workouts: the 40-yard dash, shuttle drills, etc. The Blue-Grey coaches received his results. Then, Mitts was forced to play the waiting game, as coaches monitored how players did over the course of the season.
When that letter came, it was pure joy. It had been a rough overall year for Lakewood Ranch football, but evidently the Blue-Grey coaches saw something they liked in Mitts’ combine results and highlight film, and selected him.
How awesome is that? There is no more purely American sport than football (not even baseball, despite its nickname), and there is nothing more American than setting a goal, working as hard as you can to achieve it, then finding success. To all the young — and old — people reading this, you can do most anything with determination.
Mitts is verbally committed to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he would be teammates with childhood friend and current Saint Stephen’s Episcopal senior defensive end Tyler Burnham. It would take a lot to shake him from that decision, Mitts said, but if a big-time college football coach has seen his performance in the Blue-Grey Bowl and decides to offer him a scholarship, he would consider it. The whole point of the game is for under-the-radar kids to get recognition, after all.
Even if Mitts sticks with St. Olaf, he got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in a game he used to watch from the stands, in front of the entire country, and that is special.