Childhood inspiration fuels progress of Comet athlete

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Denis Perez / The Advocate
Denis Perez / The Advocate
It is a normal thing to set lofty goals but it’s rare that those goals fit perfectly with a person’s attitude, composure and sensibility.

For Comet sophomore receiver and African- American studies major, Samaj Mitchell, planning a life of football and a potential political career fits perfectly with the man he is steadily becoming.

“From the time that I was 8 years old I wanted to play football and then become a civil rights attorney. Then I’d like to run for president,” Mitchell said. “I’ve always wanted to be president because the office holds the ultimate power, people love him and everyone knows who the president is.”

At an early age, it was Mitchell’s grandmother that planted the original gridiron seed in her young grandson.
Born three days before the Christmas of 1997 in Memphis, Tennessee, his family moved to Texas when he was little. A young Mitchell grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, eventually settling down in Mansfield.

“In Texas, football was everything. My grandmother used to dress me up like a Dallas Cowboys player,” Mitchell said. “My family didn’t have much money for college, so like a lot of people I saw sports as a way out.”

For Mitchell, in many ways, sports is the ultimate meritocracy.

He learned from his mother that if you keep your head down and put in the hard work, when you lift your head up, you can see how far the work has taken you.

After an average high school football career at Lake Ridge High School in Mansfield, Texas, Mitchell took a trip to the Bay Area with his step brother to visit his uncle — an uncle who was friends with former Comet football coach Alonzo Carter.

Mitchell loved the Bay Area vibe, and after some convincing by his uncle, found a college to continue his football dream and a new place to call home.

“He’s a baller. He’s been cool since he got here,” former Contra Costa College quarterback Cameron Burston said. “He was always the observant type. He always looks and listens first before he speaks, like I do, so we vibed from the beginning. He has all of the qualities that it takes to be a leader. He hasn’t embraced being a vocal leader yet so he’s doing more of his leading by example. He’s a gamer — they just have to find ways to get him the ball. He’s a playmaker for sure.”

For the football team, 2017 has been a year to rebuild. Aside from his team’s losing record (the Comets are 0-5) putting a damper on his sophomore season, Mitchell suffered a concussion in practice which forced the receiver to miss the Comets’ fourth game of this season.

While jumping to catch a pass, Mitchell was undercut by his own teammate, cornerback Marcus Pippen, and landed awkwardly on his neck.

“All I saw was blackness and I kept hearing the song by Sza, ‘Broken Clocks’ in my head,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t remember what happened, but I knew something was wrong when I finally saw all of my teammates looking at me. I thought my season was over.”

With so much emphasis in football on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, veterans and people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, Mitchell knows his choice to play football comes with consequences.

Sharing duties at one of the most dangerous positions in football, kick returner, Mitchell adopts a “play smart” ideology. He is careful about not recklessly exposing himself to undue bodily harm.

For Mitchell, the concussion brought everything into perspective.

“If I ever wake up with any signs of impaired memory, I’ll stop playing,” he said.

The sophomore is still deciding between attending UC Davis or one of the many historically black colleges across the country.

If not for football, Mitchell would love to attend the UC Berkeley, but heard from his coaches that Cal is not recruiting any receivers from the area right now.

“I would love to go to Cal because they have a good African-American studies program and I still want to be in the area,” Mitchell said. “But since I heard that they aren’t looking for any receivers right now and there are other schools that may be interested in me playing, I’ll have to weigh all of my options.”

Until then, he is focused on being the best team- mate and student that he can be, leading by example with hard work and dedication and offering words of inspiration when needed.

“(He’s a) very outgoing good player and a great teammate. He’s phenomenal as a friend,” CCC freshman linebacker Cody Tarantino said. “Semaj (Mitchell) always gives good advice. We talk back and forth and help each other out. He’s responsible and knows what he’s doing with his life.”

In his personal life, Mitchell draws inspiration from Malcolm X, Tupac and W.E.B. Dubois and uses pieces of all of their experiences to light his own pathway in life.

“I respect them because they blazed their own trails like I hope to. They were real leaders,” he said.