By Ben Stroup
Thousands of players have earned varsity letters at Olentangy High School over the years … but none quite like Inikki Mitchell.
Breaking onto the varsity scene had nothing to do with stats. Mitchell, a senior defensive end on the OHS football team, doesn’t have a ton of those to brag about.
Standing just more than five feet tall, weighing in at 124 pounds, stature didn’t play a role, either.
Drive, determination, passion, poise and pride, though … those are a few of the things that make Mitchell special.
Those, and a heck of a lot of other intangibles, are the things that will make her the first girl to be awarded a varsity letter in football in Olentangy history.
This season, one which has the defending league-champion Braves tied for first in the OCC-Capital Division, is the culmination of what’s been quite a journey.
Michell, who credits her brothers, Maleke and Malcolm (former and current Braves players, respectively) for getting her into the sport, started playing in the second grade.
“I started because one of my brothers’ teammates told me girls couldn’t play football,” she said. “Both my brothers played, I liked the game, so I said, ‘OK, I got this.’ I wanted to prove a point: girls are just as capable as guys … and I don’t like people putting limitations on me.”
From that point on, Mitchell was on a mission — one which has been aided by a support system as big as the community she lives in.
“As I got older, a lot of people helped me along the way,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t had one problem. I’ve had a lot of really cool coaches.”
Need an example? When Mitchell started playing freshman ball, the pads, well, they just didn’t fit her right.
“It was rough,” Mitchell said of the fit, “But my freshman coach went out and found a local women’s arena league and had someone come and measure me for pads. It was the coolest thing having someone go out of their way like that.”
Once she found her comfort zone, it wasn’t long before she found herself on the field under the bright lights of Friday nights.
Mitchell’s first varsity action came during her sophomore season … and she’ll never forget it.
“We were up big, and there were three minutes left in the game,” she said. “I heard coach calling for someone to go in, but I didn’t think it was me.”
Turns out, it was Mitchell’s time to shine.
“I was excited, nervous, scared,” she said. “I’m just five feet tall. What if I do terrible? What if I get totally driven back? That’s what I was thinking … but I went out there and played my hardest. And I did well … nothing that I would get killed for in the film room.
“I only played three downs sophomore year, but it was awesome to play under the lights.”
Another highlight, she said, was winning an OYAA (Olentangy Youth Athletic Association) championship — something neither of her brothers were able to do.
Mitchell said current Olentangy defensive line coach Michael Picetti, and all the coaches, have been more than amazing.
“He accepted that I wasn’t as big, strong or fast as everyone else, but has always been great about helping me and teaching me the game,” she said.
Her parents and brothers, obviously, have been supportive since day one. Mitchell knows she wouldn’t be where she is without them.
“My dad always pushed me,” she said. “He knew I wasn’t as big as the guys, but taught me technique and pushed me to play. And my brothers have always been great about me playing … when they weren’t worried about me getting hurt.”
Mitchell said she owes a lot to the current defensive linemen, too — guys like Chris Crumb and Jacob Geyer.
As if football wasn’t enough to keep Mitchell busy, she’s also quite the student. She took college courses at Columbus State as an eighth grader, ranks 20th of 335 in the Class of 2016 with a 4.112 GPA and has successfully completed nine advanced-placement courses — scoring perfect scores on five of the exams while doing more than enough to pass the others.
Mitchell, who took home the grand prize in a 2010 Amazing Kids Magazine short story contest, is also a published writer.
Currently, she’s in the process of applying to Harvard University for early admission with the aspiration of attending Harvard Law School to study international law.
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.