College athletes think they know commitment. They’re not entirely wrong.
Three weeks after Missouri plays in the Independence Bowl against Arkansas on Wednesday in Shreveport, La., the Tigers begin working out in preparation for the next season. Over the summer, almost every player stays in Columbia to try to improve. The team’s in-season obligations are so regimented that the schedule makes it nearly impossible for players to participate in anything else.
Like many of his coaches but almost none of his teammates, though, cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell has an additional perspective of dedication. Mitchell, a three-year letter winner, is married.
Today Mitchell, 21, and Crystol Mitchell will celebrate their third Christmas together as husband and wife. They married on Aug. 11, 2001, in the middle of preseason two-a-day practices.
The Mitchells met when they were 16 and were “high school sweethearts,” Mitchell said. They grew up in the suburbs of Dallas. Mitchell moved to Missouri in the fall of 2000 and Crystol Mitchell moved a year later after their wedding.
Backup center Scott Sells, 24, also is married. Even the idea of married teammates took some getting used to for many players.
Sophomore cornerback Calvin Washington is close to the Mitchells and shares a hotel room with Mitchell on road trips. Washington said since marriage has not crossed his mind, he assumed everyone on the team felt the same.
“When I first heard about it, I was pretty surprised,” Washington said. “I was just like, ‘Man, you’re in the middle of your college career, to get married, that’s a big step.”’
Mitchell said marriage has helped him get through college, though.
“Being married made me mature a lot quicker,” Mitchell said. “I’m not living for myself, I’m living for her, too.”
Washington said Mitchell provides a good role model for him.
“It takes a lot from you already to be single and play football,” Washington said. “I look to him for that, it takes a strong individual to do that. He really handles his business in the right way.”
Crystol Mitchell attends Columbia College and will graduate in May. She works at First National Bank. Mitchell is a partial qualifier and will likely gain an extra year of eligibility, so their stay in Missouri could possibly be extended.
According to Mitchell, one important aspect of marriage is not unlike football: working as a team.
“The big thing I have to learn is sharing everything,” Mitchell said. “It’s all about 50-50, it’s not all about me now. Sometimes I go out and spend money that I don’t need to be spending. Sometimes I forget that she is at home and I need to talk to her before I do that. It’s all right though. I’m still learning to be married.”
The Tigers are free to spend most of this week with their families, but must return to Columbia late Friday night to prepare for the team’s departure at 7:30 Saturday morning. A few days later, Crystol Mitchell will also be heading to Louisiana. She comes to every game and travels to road games with other players’ girlfriends.
The Mitchells went to Dallas for Christmas and will spend several more days in their hometown after the bowl game.
Mitchell has appreciation for the holiday traditions he gains with his new family.
“It’s kind of cool because last Thanksgiving her people came up and cooked a big meal,” Mitchell said.