October 26, 2010 9:38:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
MILLPORT, Ala. -- Josh Harper wanted Friday night to be special.
The South Lamar High School football coach wanted to send his 10 seniors out in style with a victory against Meek in their final home game of the season.
To do that, Harper knew his senior-laden offensive line and senior running back Ken Mitchell were going to have to play big roles.
So Harper recalled his first memories of Mitchell and then talked about them with his multi-dimensional team leader. He told Mitchell he remembered Mitchell as a "little bitty" seventh-grader who was mixing it up and having a good time with the juniors and seniors. He encouraged Mitchell to play Friday with the same kind of joy and to help him make more special moments.
Mitchell and his teammates didn''t disappoint.
Buoyed by a stellar performance by the offensive line, Mitchell gashed Meek for 339 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-27 victory in a Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 1A, Region 5 game.
For his accomplishments, Mitchell is The Dispatch''s Prep Player of the Week.
"I told him to let it loose and to show me what you have learned the past five years," Harper said. "The coaches took pride in seeing him do the things he learned and seeing his natural gifts."
Mitchell, a 5-foot-7, 166-pounder, scored on runs of 32, 34, and 20 yards in the first quarter. He added a 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and an 83-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
Harper and Mitchell praised the play of senior offensive linemen Cody Daniel, Jarod Beasley, Dustin Homan, Justin Sanford, and Cory Jones and tight end Josh Elliott. Harper said the linemen delivered one of the "best nights I have seen them play."
Mitchell agreed, saying the holes his teammates opened allowed him to break into the open and then use his speed and his escapability to break tackles or to make defenders miss.
"I couldn''t have done it without my offensive line," said Mitchell, who has played running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, cornerback, and safety in his career at South Lamar. He has played five years on the varsity football team at the school after spending his sophomore year at Sulligent High. "It was the best I have seen them play all year. I can''t thank them enough."
Mitchell said the offensive linemen fired off the ball and provided constant encouragement in the huddle. He said their enthusiasm motivated him to make Senior Nigh even more memorable.
"I never dreamed of (scoring five touchdowns)," said Mitchell, who hopes to be a coach and is considering attending the University of North Alabama, Jacksonville State, West Alabama, and Alabama. He said he hopes to continue his football career in college. "Coach Harper told me before the game, ''This is your night. Have a breakthrough game and be remembered.'' "
Harper said he was most pleased to see Mitchell make one cut and go vertical. He said he has urged Mitchell to be more of a north-south runner as opposed to an east-west back because he has the skills to bust a big play every time he touches the ball. Harper said it didn''t surprise him Mitchell had such a big game, but he admitted he didn''t expect it because Meek had been playing tough defense.
South Lamar (3-6, 2-5 region) will close its season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sulligent, but Harper said Mitchell has helped create a lot of positives this year. The senior running back enters the final game with 841 rushing yards and is closing in on 20 touchdowns for the season.
"It is going to be hard to top that, but I know Ken and he is going to try," Harper said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.