POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — His wish came true … even before the candles were lit.
Senior Cody Mitchell fulfilled a lifelong dream while celebrating his 18th birthday Wednesday after signing a national letter of intent to play football with Marshall University at the Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School Commons area in Mason County.
Mitchell — a 6-foot-3, 235 pound jack-of-all-trades on the gridiron — officially signed with the Thundering Herd during the early hours of February 3, which served as the 2016 National Signing Day for prep football players around the country.
Mitchell — arguably the most decorated football player to ever walk the halls at Point Pleasant High School — was rated as a three-star recruit by the likes of ESPN.com, 247Sports.com and Scout.com, but the three-time all-state honoree and 2015 West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year was very much at ease in signing the dotted line with Marshall University.
And, as he noted, it was both a pretty rare and even cooler birthday present to wake up to.
“You know, it really is an exciting time for me. Both my dad and my brother have played football at the division one level, so I knew when I was young that I had to step it up if I wanted to continue this tradition within the family,” Mitchell said. “Between listening to dad and watching what Derek had to go through to walk on at Marshall, I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to make this dream a reality.
“To actually sign a scholarship and commit to a place that I love, I know well and it’s also close to home, that’s definitely a dream come true. I don’t know if I get another wish later when we blow out the candles on my cake, but I honestly don’t think I’ll need another one. This has definitely been a birthday that I’ll never forget.”
Cody is the first Point Pleasant football player to sign a Division I scholarship straight out of high school since 1986, when his father Darrell joined West Virginia University as a promising tight end prospect. Cody’s older brother Derek completed his Marshall career a few years ago after originally walking on as a linebacker.
All three had celebrated gridiron careers with the Big Blacks while making their way to D-1 football, and now all three will have something else in common … Marshall head football coach Doc Holliday.
Besides getting Cody, Holliday also served as Derek’s coach at MU and was the tight ends coach at WVU back in the mid-80s under legendary Mountaineer frontman Don Nehlen.
The youngest Mitchell acknowledges that there will be no free passes handed out by Holliday or his staff, but those previous experiences between Cody and the people within the Thundering Herd program did have a significant influence on his choice.
And, in all fairness, Cody notes that he’d prefer to earn his keep.
“The one thing that did help a little bit in this decision was the familiarity with Coach Holliday,” Mitchell said. “He’s coached both Derek and my dad, so I have learned over the years how he approaches the game and how he treats his players. He’s the kind of coach that would go to war for his players … and I’m looking forward to going to war with him over the next four or five years.
“I know that I won’t get a break for the family connection with Coach Holliday and I know that what I’ve done in high school doesn’t matter where I’m headed. I’m going to get put through a lot to get ready for practices and we are all competing for playing time, so there is still a lot of hard work to put in to hopefully get one of those spots.”
During his four years with the PPHS gridiron program, Mitchell accumulated numerous school records and awards while helping the Big Blacks to four postseason appearances, three unbeaten regular seasons and a 41-6 overall mark.
Mitchell was the main offensive cog for the Big Blacks in 2016 after providing 2,321 yards and 42 touchdowns on 178 carries while also leading the team in receptions with 15 grabs for 213 yards and four scores.
Mitchell also amassed 101 tackles, 5.5 sacks and had five punt returns for touchdowns during a senior campaign that resulted in a 12-1 mark and a Class AAA state semifinal appearance.
Mitchell’s career records at PPHS include most touchdowns (101), rushing yards (5,197) and all-purpose yards (7,233) over a career. Mitchell also owns a state playoff record in Class AAA with seven rushing touchdowns in a game.
For PPHS football coach Dave Darst, Wednesday was a very surreal moment for himself, the program and the community. As he noted, there was nobody more deserving of an opportunity like this than Cody Mitchell.
“It’s a proud day for everyone in Point Pleasant and we’re honored to have a kid like Cody Mitchell headed to a fine institution like Marshall University,” Darst said. “Obviously, we’re very proud of Cody and what he’s been able to accomplish in his four years here. In knowing how hard he’s worked, it’s personally a proud moment to see this day become a reality.”
Coach Darst believes that Cody can not only make an immediate impact for the Thundering Herd, but he may also be able to help them sell some extra tickets over the next few falls.
“In my opinion, Cody’s made a really good choice. He’s more than familiar with Doc and how he does things, and he’s both physically and mentally ready to go in there, put in the hard work and hopefully make an immediate impact for Marshall,” Darst said. “I’d also guess that he’s probably going to have a local following being less than hour from home. We’ve always had great support for our high school games, but I’d imagine that a few more people here in Point Pleasant will be making the trip down to Marshall University in the near future.”
As Mitchell — who also won the 2016 Curt Warner Award as West Virginia’s top prep running back — prepares to start a new journey in Huntington, he also took a moment to reflect on what he was leaving behind during his time as a Big Black.
He’s said many times that there isn’t much he’d change about his four years of high school, and he is still to this day thankful for the teammates he’s had the privilege to suit up with on Friday nights.
With that said, he’s looking forward to representing his friends, former teammates, and Point Pleasant during his future endeavors with Marshall.
“It’s sad, in some regards, to know that my playing days at Point Pleasant are over, but I’m also very fortunate to be able to play this game at another level over the next few years,” Mitchell said. “Coach Darst and the staff did a great job of bringing me up as a freshman, showing me how to get bigger, stronger and faster to work myself into the football player that I am today.
“They’ve always done a good job of getting the best out of us during my time here, and that was what made it so much fun. I have a lot of teammates and people to thank for what has happened today and I look forward to making them proud.”
Cody is considering Exercise Science as a possible major at MU, but he is still officially undecided at the moment. Cody currently holds a 3.7 GPA and is the son of Darrell and Debbie Mitchell of Point Pleasant.
Other D-1 programs with interest in Cody for football included Indiana, Northwestern, Wake Forest and West Virginia. Mitchell was the only 2016 Marshall signee to come from within the Mountain State.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.