At first, it started as a shameless plug, somehow that lead to taking snaps on the scout team as a ninth grader. Whether by his persistence or by South Jones head football coach Cory Reynolds’ design years ago, now junior quarterback John Mitchell has brought balance to the offense on the Reservation.
“I don’t know if coach had intended on it happening, I think he did,” said Mitchell. “I stayed in his ear about it my ninth grade year. I would hop in during scout team offense and joke around [and play quarterback].
“By my tenth-grade year, me, Chad Moses and Will [Mitchell] were taking snaps [at quarterback], and things kinda went my way.”
In ninth grade, Mitchell, taller than most his age, played wide receiver. He was the team’s most targeted receiver in a run-heavy offense with 247 yards on 15 receptions.
“Playing receiver, I already knew all the routes,” added Mitchell. “It helped a lot.”
Injuries played a role last season. Mitchell sat out the season opener with a shoulder injury, and over a month (four games) midway through the season with a foot injury.
In the seven games Mitchell played in 2016, he attempted 138 passes and collected 764 yards through the air as a sophomore. He surpassed nearly every passing stat the program held since Bryant Baucum commanded the Braves behind center in 2009 as a senior.
This year, in four games played, under center Mitchell has completed 34 passes for 505 yards, including a game-high 147 yards last week against county rival Northeast Jones. For the first time in nearly a decade, the team’s passing yards per game almost equal the teams rushing yards per game.
Under Mitchell, South Jones and its offense have gone from run-heavy to balanced.
“The game has slowed down a good bit for him this year,” said Reynolds. “Last year he was just throwing it up to Brandon Gordan and hoping. Now it’s slowing down, making reads and anticipating his throws more. And this time next year, he will be so much better.”
Mitchell’s success this year has been in his ability to read defenses better.
“Last year I found myself guessing a lot as to what the defense would do,” said Mitchell. “This year I know pre-snap most of the time out of what I’ve learned during film study. Film study is a big thing for me now. Monday and Tuesday’s I watch a lot of film, and from that, I learn their tendencies.”
He’s a quarterback that can also run. Against Northeast Jones, Mitchell carried the ball 10 times for 104 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown run that capped a four TD night.
Both run and pass will be of great importance if South Jones wants to secure its first playoff appearance since 2008. The program has failed to do so by one game for two-straight years.
“One thing you better be able to do is throw the ball when you need to throw the ball and run the ball when you need to run the ball,” Reynolds said. “We are slowly getting to that. With John being able to run and throw, it helps us.”
South Jones will host Bay High this Friday night (Week 5) for Homecoming on the Reservation before beginning Region 3-5A in Week 6 against the defending region champs, Laurel. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.