Wesley notebook: Mitchell has overcome tough start to his life

Wesley cornerback Isiah Mitchell returns one of his five interceptions last year. Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Isiah Mitchell had barely started his life when it almost ended.

He was only 12 months old, riding with his family on an interstate in Pennsylvania, when the accident occurred.

In an instant, Mitchell’s parents and a sister were gone. He and two other siblings survived.

“We always say, ‘He took three,’” said Mitchell, “‘and he left three.’”

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Now a 21-year-old cornerback for the Wesley College football team, Mitchell has learned to live with the results of that awful day.

The Middletown High grad has thrived despite the difficult start to his life.

Mitchell and No. 13 Wesley (2-1 NJAC, 5-1 overall) host Montclair State (2-1 NJAC, 3-3 overall) on Saturday at 1 p.m. for homecoming.

In his third season with the Wolverines, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is their top cover corner.

Raised by his grandmother in New York, Mitchell moved to Middletown just before high school to live with an aunt and uncle. He said one of the most difficult things about growing up without his parents was after games.

All the other players seemed to have family waiting for them.

“They did a good job at Middletown of bringing me in,” said Mitchell. “Family was family. When I came off the field, parents would hug me. It was just hard not seeing my parents there.

“Or scoring a touchdown without my dad being like, ‘This is how you could do it better. …’”

Mitchell can’t do anything to change the past, of course.

“It’s what happened,” he said. “It’s kind of made me who I am today.”

And the man that Mitchell has grown into is someone the Wolverines are glad to have on their team.

“He’s been somebody we could count on and build on,” said Wesley coach Chip Knapp. “He’s brought a lot of good, positive energy to the team and to practice.”

A year ago, Mitchell was a first-team all-NJAC selection. He finished with five interceptions — and 100 yards in returns — along with eight pass deflections and 31 tackles.

But Wesley gave him even more responsibility this fall, usually lining him up against the opponent’s top receiver.

“When you look at our secondary, he’s a guy that we know is going to have a good game,” said Knapp. “He’s tough, aggressive.”

“With that wrestling background, I think I’ve always been pretty good at tackling,” said Mitchell, who wrestled at Middletown. “I really took this summer to work on my ‘man’ (coverage) skills. I felt that’s where I lacked.”

Mitchell credits former Wesley safety Capadonna Miller for giving him a lot of confidence last season.

“Just playing with someone like that — and not wanting to let them down — made it even better for me,” said Mitchell.

A couple years ago, Mitchell had a different image of his college career. He walked on at FCS Division I Stony Brook.

But, just after he committed to the Seawolves, former Wesley coach Mike Drass walked into meet with him. He remembered that when he decided to transfer three years ago.

“He was just genuine in talking to me,” Mitchell recalled. “He said if you ever need anything, just let me know. When the time came, I just knew who to call.

“Everything happens for a reason. I’m happy to be in the position I’m in right now.”

One tough loss

Last season, in the span of just four weeks, the Wolverines suffered three one-point losses.

But maybe none of those gut-wrenching setbacks was worse than Wesley’s 10-9 loss to Montclair.

Not only did the Wolverines misplay a PAT after a bad snap, but they fumbled the ball the Redhawks’ one-yard line in the fourth quarter and had a 23-yard field goal attempt hit the upright. A penalty also set up Montclair’s lone touchdown.

Wesley lost despite out-gaining the Redhawks 394 yards to 223.

“Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong,” said Knapp. “It illustrated how the difference between winning and losing can come down to one play. There were about five or six of those plays we let slip away.

“That game is one we can really learn from. As a head coach and as a program, we took away some good lessons.”

The Wolverines can’t replay that game, naturally, but they can try to eliminate those big mistakes when Montclair returns to Dover on Saturday.

“That game really sticks out for us when you think about last year,” said Knapp. “We talk about it quite a bit and what we need to do to build as a program.

“Last year’s game has all the examples you need about taking care of the details, playing hard, being poised … All the those things you need to learn to be a successful football program, they’re all wrapped in one game.”

Pendleton making mark

At 6-foot, 240 pounds, Leroy Pendleton isn’t built like a typical Division III tailback.

But Knapp said the true freshman is turning out to be a pretty special player in his own right.

“It really came out in practice when we saw him run the ball,” said Knapp. “He was getting chunks of yards in practice and he was tough to tackle. Once you get to know him, he’s a very conscientious, smart football player. He’s capable of playing multiple positions — which is unusual for a freshman.

“He catches the ball very well, he’s our best pass protector. We’re trying to figure out more ways to get him the ball.”

Pendleton had a pair of short touchdown runs in Wesley’s 45-7 win at William Paterson last Saturday. He has three TDs this season.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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