ALLIANCE, Ohio -- Senior running back Bradley “B.J.” Mitchell has embraced the opportunity to be a leader for the University of Mount Union football team.
One of the few offensive starters with a wealth of experience, Mitchell has developed into a leader for the Purple Raiders, the defending NCAA Division III champions, who enter the second round of the postseason at 10-1 after a 38-21 win at Hobart College last week.
“It’s always something I’ve kind of wanted to do,” Mitchell said. “Coming in as a freshman, just watching the guys before me like Kevin Burke, Hank Spencer and Alex Kocheff, just watching those guys and following their lead for the first three years. I happened to be put in this spot to do it myself. It’s something I think I’ve been well prepared for.”
Over his four-year career, Mitchell has appeared in three National Championship games, but the road back to the Stagg Bowl will come with a different set of challenges from most of the NCAA title teams at Mount Union.
Mount Union dropped the last game of the regular season to Ohio Athletic Conference rival John Carroll University, and as such, did not claim at least a share of the title for the first time since the mid-1990s. However, the Purple Raiders got an at-large bid to the postseason and will instead be on the road rather than hosting four rounds of the playoffs, as they have since 1997.
“The past two times I’ve lost here at Mount Union, you’re losing and you’ve got to go home and think about it all winter because it was in the Stagg Bowl, but losing this time, we had a chance to get out there and practice for a whole other week and we were chomping at the bit to get out there,” Mitchell said. “And when we got a chance, it was an anxious feeling leading up to it. It was just great to play ball again.”
Through 11 games in 2016, Mitchell rushed for 1,288 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Despite having a 117.1 yards-per-game rushing average, Mitchell has not gained more than 90 yards in a game since the sixth week of the season. However, Mitchell rushed for 100 or more yards in each of those first six weeks, including a career-best 259-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 49-7 win over Baldwin Wallace.
“He’s a young man that broke into the starting lineup about the seventh game his first year here in 2013,” Mount Union coach Vince Kehres said. “He’s an undersized back, but a very talented back, has great lateral quickness, has phenomenal burst, excellent vision.”
With inclement weather bound to be in the forecast if the Purple Raiders continue their march through the postseason, Mitchell will play a critical role in the offense, and the veteran rusher would love nothing more than getting Mount Union back to where it wants to be, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, fighting for a National Championship.
“It would mean the world to me,” Mitchell said. “This year, it would be in a different way. I think this team is very special and we can definitely write our own, unique chapter in Mount Union history with a win and a playoff run following a loss. I think that’d be something special, and that would be one of the more memorable championship runs.”