Matt Mitchell is a competitor, and a winner, both on the football field and in the classroom. A lifelong fight with cystic fibrosis taught him to compete.
“It’s almost helped me a little bit,” said Mitchell, a 2016 NFF National High School Scholar-Athlete. “I feel really competitive, because on a day-to-day basis, I’m always having to fight with CF.”
Mitchell’s competitive side shined in his quarterback play for Joy Christian High School in Glendale, Arizona. He led the Eagles to an undefeated record and Arizona Interscholastic Association Div. V championship in 2015, and capped off the perfect campaign with four touchdowns in the state title game win over Benson.
Now a wide receiver for Phoenix College, Mitchell balances his football aspirations with his standout performance – all while continuing to win the battle with cystic fibrosis, an affliction he’s had since he was an infant.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes buildup of mucus in the lungs and other organs, which can labor breathing and cause respiratory infections.
Every day, Mitchell said he undergoes two, 20-minute high-frequency chest wall oscillation treatments. That entails wearing a vest that applies pressure and vibrates the user’s chest, loosening mucus buildup caused by cystic fibrosis.
“It’s helped me with my discipline,” Mitchell said both of his daily treatments, and adhering to the regiment of vitamins he must take. “I’ve had no choice but to stay on top of the things with cystic fibrosis, it’s carried over into the aspects of my life.”
That discipline serves him well now in a unique college football environment.
The junior college route Mitchell’s taken comes with rigors that the average Div. I athlete doesn’t face. Mitchell explained he commutes almost 40 minutes from his home to Phoenix College’s downtown campus.
“I’m spending a lot of time at the school,” he said. “I’m either studying, or I’m lifting for football, or we’re in [team] meetings or we’re in football practice.”
Mitchell is one of the more than 5,000 players on 67 National Junior College Athletic Association programs. It’s a unique world compared to the NCAA’s Div. I, but the challenges help build a sense of camaraderie.
“The grind on the junior college scene,” Mitchell called it. “We’re all kind of in it together.”
He said the routine requires “a lot of time management,” and he adheres to some advice unique to the 21st century student.
“The biggest thing is setting my phone down and eliminate all distractions, so I can be most effective in the time I do have,” he said.
Maximizing his available time already puts Mitchell ahead of plenty of college students, but he said it’s also allowed him to grow on the football field.
“I feel a lot more relaxed when I’m at football, because I don’t have to worry, ‘I’m going to have to do this assignment later,’” he said. “It’s just full focus and what I need to do on the field.”
On Dec. 6, Mitchell will join fellow honorees Andrew Griffin, Scooter Harrington, John Orr and Stephen Spanellis at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Mitchell is the only honoree attending a junior college.
“Hearing my name with guys from Princeton, and Stanford, and Michigan is just a huge honor,” he said.
When he’s in class, Mitchell is driven toward a goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“I’m really fascinated with how the body works,” he said. “With battling CF, you try to get the body to function to its highest potential. So, I’m really fascinated with how I can help other people, even if they don’t have CF, help their body function at its highest level, and really be the healthiest they can be.”
Mitchell’s own fight and success can indeed prove beneficial to others. To that end, he said he hopes to mentor children also afflicted with cystic fibrosis.
“A lot of [children] feel like having CF stops them from going out and having a fun life, whether it’s playing basketball with their friends, or going swimming in the pool,” he said. “They feel like CF is going to hold them back.”
Mitchell proves that is not the case.