From Okinawa to Tucson: Jarrett Mitchell picks his college

Jarrett Mitchell on the football field - photo by Keisha Allen

An update on the recruitment and college destination of the Okinawa high school athlete featured in a February BON piece.

On February 20th of this year, Burnt Orange Nation published an article that detailed the struggles in recruiting faced by American student-athletes who attend high schools on overseas military bases. These kids are usually - but not always - U.S. military dependents, and tens of thousands of them attend schools (Department of Defense Dependents Schools, or DoDDS for short) on military installations located in 12 foreign countries and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Numerous athletes of varying prominence have begun their high school years at such schools and eventually played college football (or other sports) at the Division I level, though exposure tends to be much more difficult to achieve.

The article discussed in the most detail the logistics and realities of athletic competition between the dozen or so American DoDDS high schools in the Far East, and in particular focused on Jarrett Mitchell, then a senior at Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, Japan. Here follows a short recap on him. Mitchell has lived essentially his entire life on Okinawa (a Japanese island) after originally moving there as a baby when his father was stationed at Kadena Air Base. He remained there long after his father's Air Force deployment had ended because his mother worked as a teacher at some of the American schools in the island. He showed himself to be a very talented athlete early on in his high school years, and after a breakout season in football his sophomore year (in which he starred as a running back, kick returner, and occasionally at safety) he spent the summer of 2012 attending stateside football camps in an attempt to gain exposure to college football programs.

He received good reviews for some of his camp performances, earning running back MVP honors at a few, but he remained off the radar to all but a few schools, and college coaches can't recruit what they can't see. The few Division I programs that were aware of Mitchell were unable to really evaluate - and therefore very reluctant to offer a scholarship to - a kid from a school 14 or more time zones away, and whose competition level was perceived to be suspect at best. So despite his having very strong junior and senior seasons (between them he rushed for over 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns while playing in only 19 games), working out at several combines and college camps in the summer of 2013, and putting on an MVP performance against several eventual Division I and Division II signees in the Offense-Defense Diamonds in the Rough game in Florida this past January, Mitchell did not have a single athletic scholarship offer at the time of the original article's publication, which was two weeks after National Signing Day. (For the full background story, see: The Recruiting Saga of an American Football Star in Japan.)

The article was very well-received, especially in the military community it seems, and as of this writing it has been shared on Facebook 2,956 times. Mitchell says it got a big reaction within the American community on Okinawa;  there was an instance a few days after its publication in which a group of people Mitchell had never met before noticed him at a store wearing a Kubasaki shirt with his name on the back. They happened to have read the BON article and upon seeing his shirt they asked him if he was the athlete they'd just read about. With the overwhelming reaction and interest that readers took in Jarrett Mitchell and his story, I thought it appropriate to give an update on how things have gone for him in the past four months, and which school he plans to attend this fall.

To pick up where the article chronologically left off, the Kubasaki boys basketball team's season ended shortly before the article's publication, and Mitchell afterwards jumped into track and field, where he recorded a time of 10.84 in the 100 meter dash, ran a leg of Kubasaki's 4x100 meter relay team (which set a Pacific record early in the season with a time of 42.9 seconds), and helped his school win the Far East Division I team championship to cap off the season and his high school athletic career.

For his football, basketball, and track and field exploits, he was named Stars and Stripes's Pacific High School Male Athlete of the Year in June, becoming only the second athlete to win that award twice (he previously earned the honor after his sophomore year). Continuing an overriding theme of the original article, he experienced far less success on the recruiting front than on the playing field.

He received interest from Louisville, whose football roster includes two former Okinawa residents in brothers Aaron and Gabe Ahner, both walk-on defensive tackles who graduated from Kadena High School. He says Louisville offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on and he applied to the school, but for some reason he was never notified on whether he had been accepted or not.  During the spring he received some interest from junior college programs from around the country, but ultimately decided not to pursue that path. Purdue showed very late interest, contacting him in mid-May and expressing interest in bringing him on as a preferred walk-on. Purdue's interest can be attributed to the Six Degrees of Separation game that is college football coaching; its new Director of Player Personnel, Mike Waugh, had just been hired away from Cincinnati, a program that had Mitchell on its radar because its offensive coordinator, Eddie Gran, had seen him work out at a Florida State camp in the summer of 2012, when Gran was the Seminoles' running backs coach. The interest from Purdue came to nothing, however; Mitchell replied to the Boilermakers after their initial show of interest, but says he never heard from their staff again. And even before Purdue came calling (or, in this case, emailing), he had become interested in the University of Arizona.

Having an interest in studying marketing and/or communications, Mitchell liked what UA had to offer in those areas, and the football fan in him took notice when Wildcat running back Ka'Deem Carey, who was about the same size Mitchell is now when he began his college career, earned All-American honors in his junior season and was picked in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Mitchell applied to and was accepted at Arizona, and his high school grades (all A's and B's) helped earn him a pretty good academic scholarship, and despite having never had any contact with Arizona's football coaches, he decided that would be his collegiate destination.

Kubasaki held its 2014 graduation in the 2nd week of June, and soon afterwards Mitchell flew to the U.S. and got to visit the UA campus for the first time. He plans to enroll at Arizona for the fall semester and will attempt to make the football team as a walk-on. Whether the coaching staff is yet aware of him is unclear. Both Mitchell and Kubasaki High's head football coach Fred Bales made attempts to email the UA coaches to let them know of his background and interest in playing football while attending the school, but received no response. While in Tucson for freshman orientation in June, Mitchell attempted to visit the football offices but was told the coaches were not present, and that he should come back in early August when walk-on packets will be ready to be picked up.

He plans to spend the rest of the summer visiting family and friends, relaxing a bit, traveling, and attempting to stay in good football shape. As is the case with most football athletes who also compete in basketball and track, the increased amount of running the latter sports require led to him losing some of his football weight. Mitchell, who is 5'9", says he weighed around 192-193 pounds at the end of football season, but he had dropped into the low 180s by the early weeks of track season. His track coach agreed to let him shorten his running workouts so he could get in some strength training, and he says he is now back up to 187 pounds and hopes to be at 190 when football practices begin in August.

After living most of his life on a Pacific island where it rained often and had a temperate but humid climate (Okinawa lies at about the same latitude as Florida's Palm Beach County), moving to the dry desert of Tucson (average annual rainfall: 11.3 inches) is quite a geographic and meteorological shift. It took him a couple of days to adjust to the heat in Arizona, but he says he likes it there, and it helps that near the top of his wish list for prospective colleges was that he go somewhere that wasn't cold (which likely would have ruled out Purdue even if they had shown more interest).

The recruiting process was a long and frustrating one for Jarrett, and he's glad to have it over with. On and around National Signing Day he read about a few names of athletes he knew who received scholarships or partial scholarships to play college football, but his offer never came. At least two former Far East athletes received football scholarships from Division I schools in February. Sidney Malauulu, a defensive tackle who spent his early high school years at Seoul American High School in South Korea before moving to Arizona, signed with Wyoming. Jariah Tolbert, a tall wide receiver who was a freshman year classmate of Jarrett Mitchell's at Kubasaki before moving to Louisiana, signed with Nebraska. (Unfortunately, Tolbert has already made negative headlines in his first month in Lincoln.)

Had Mitchell moved to the states for his senior year, his chances of getting a scholarship would have been exponentially higher, but he has no regrets about remaining with his family at Okinawa and graduating with his classmates at Kubasaki. "Sometimes I'll think 'what if...' this, or 'what if...' that," he says, "but at the end of the day I think I made the right decision, and I know that if I can make it [on the football team] there [at Arizona], it'll show the other kids in the Pacific schools that you can make it without moving to the states to finish high school."

Should he impress the UA staff during walk-on tryouts and make the football team, Jarrett Mitchell will be one of at least two alums of Far East high schools competing in athletics for Pac-12 schools. Over at Stanford, Bessie Noll, a 2013 graduate of The American School in Japan (a private American school in Tokyo), was a starting outfielder for the Cardinal softball team as a true freshman this spring.

Mitchell will likely have to wait much longer before he sees the field in a Wildcats jersey. This fall Arizona will return two lettermen at running back, plus a three-star recruit from 2013 who redshirted, and the program's 2014 class included two highly-rated backs as well. Mitchell is well built for the running back position but could potentially be moved to slot receiver like a few of Arizona's recent running back signees have been, and Kubasaki head coach Fred Bales, a 35-year coaching veteran who worked with Jarrett for all of his high school years, believes slot receiver may be his best position long-term.

Mitchell knows he has a tough road ahead of him in order to make the Arizona football team, but if he has shown anything in recent years, it's that he's not one to back down from a challenge. And he knows that in the end, it's what he does in the classroom that will affect his future at least as much as - and probably more than - what he does on the field. As he told Stars and Stripes in April, "It's not about the four-year route but the 30-year route."

He'll be in Arizona to get a college education, and if he gets to fulfill his dream of playing college football at the same time, even better. But his focus is admirably on the long-term. "I'm looking forward to it [starting college]. I know what I need to do and want to do, and I know that as long as I keep my priorities straight it'll be a piece of cake."

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