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Inside the Recruitment of Elite DB Tony Mitchell

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2023 Alabaster (Ala.) Thompson High School standout defensive back Tony Mitchell is one of the top recruits in the nation, regardless of position. The elite prospect has a public shortlist of favorites, but others are working hard to make an impact in his recruitment. Mitchell discusses the latest in his recruitment and more with Sports Illustrated. 

Mitchell's public top five schools.

Mitchell's public top five schools.

Mitchell has been on the recruiting scene since eighth grade, and he kicked off his process with an early commitment to Tennessee in 2019. Mitchell stayed committed to the Vols until 2020 before re-opening his recruitment. Since the de-commitment, the Vols had not been in play for the standout from the Yellow Hammer state, but now they are. 

"I'd say they're outside of the (top) five, but they're definitely in my recruitment now," Mitchell said of Tennessee. 

So what is it that sparked the old flame between Mitchell and the Vols?

"I have been talking to Nico a lot, man," Mitchell said of this. "I'm like really good friends with him. Just talking to his dad and his family and getting to know those guys. I like them all a lot."

Mitchell and Iamaleava have had a chance to watch each other play on the 7v7 circuit, and they both came away impressed, which is what started their friendship.

"Really good player," Mitchell said of the Vols quarterback commit. "I met him actually at 7-on-7. I've seen him play in person live; I really like him. Good dude, a good friend, and a really good player. I'd say my favorite QB in the class. I'd say he's the best, in my opinion, and continuing to get to know him, build that relationship, get to know each other's family, stuff like that."

When Iamaleava committed to Tennessee, he was deemed a program-changer. Undoubtedly one of the most prolific offensive recruits Tennessee has landed in many years. Now, he has pitched that same line to Mitchell about the defensive side of the football. 

"He thinks I'm the best DB in the class," Mitchell said of Iamaleava's pitch to him. "So he's been wanting me to come to change things, bring a difference to Tennessee, get those good skill players they need to help change the program."

From a staff standpoint, Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks is leading the charge for Tennessee. 

"Coach Tim Banks, the DC," Mitchell said of who is communicating with the most at Tennesse. "Real good dude, good coach. We are just continuing to build a relationship, getting to know him. I don't really know him that much, but he seems like a good person so far."

Mitchell plans to see Tennessee next month for the Vols Memorial Day weekend recruiting event, along with Iamaleava. A visit that will be important for the Vols to stay in this recruitment.

"Just getting up there, getting to meet with the whole staff, and just continuing to build a relationship and be around everybody," Mitchell said of what he is looking for on the upcoming visit. 

Mitchell's last visit led him to the Plains to see Auburn, and while the Tigers are not on his public list, they have worked their way back into his recruitment. 

"They are in it now," Mitchell said of Bryan Harsin's program. "A lot of them have experience in the league and know how to develop. I feel like they have the right plan in place for the program, but now they just need the right skill players to do it. I feel like Coach (Zac)Etheridge is a real good coach and a good dude that knows how to develop."

Auburn signed six defensive backs in 2022, and they have made it clear to Mitchell that they are being selective in 2023, but he is a priority for them, which means a lot to the prized recruit. 

"Just knowing that I am a priority for them and their future means a lot," Mitchell said. "Just knowing that I could come in and play right away because they need depth at my position, so I feel like I am highly needed there."

The other home-state program, Alabama, has been a long-time favorite for Mitchell, and there is no secret as to why that is. 

"I would just say the program, overall," Mitchell said of the Crimson Tide. "They are going to win. They produce a lot of first-rounders and draft picks in general. Bama will prepare you for the league, so you have to always have them in there."

Nick Saban's staff has historically recruited Thompson High, and there is plenty of familiarity through that, but that does not dictate Mitchell's recruitment in any way.

"I wouldn't say that it helps them, but just knowing there is a pipeline from their school to mine means something," he said of this. "It isn't a major factor in my recruitment or anything like that."

The team that Alabama fell to in the national championship this past season, Georgia, has also recruited Mitchell hard for a while now. He likes what he has heard and seen from Kirby Smart's program.

"I have been really close with Coach Smart and the staff for a while now, dating back to eighth grade when I got offered," Mitchell said of the Bulldogs. "It has always been a home feeling there because they have been in my recruitment from the get-go. It is similar to Bama, I would say. They have a lot of draft picks in the league, and the coaches do a good job of preparing them for the next level."

There was a shakeup at Georgia with the defensive backs coaching position, as Jahmile Addae left Athens to go to Miami, and Fran Brown was hired from Rutgers to be his replacement. Still, it did not lead to a lapse in Mitchell's recruitment by the Bulldogs.

"I would say they kept prioritizing me through the whole thing," Mitchell said. "I talked with Coach Smart and Coach Muschamp. Just knowing that whether there was a coaching change or not, they showed me that I was a priority and one of the top guys they need."

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While Smart beat Saban in the National Title, it was Jimbo Fisher who became the first Saban assistant ever to defeat him, and his Texas A&M program is squarely in the mix for Mitchell as well. 

"I have a good relationship with everybody on the staff," Mitchell said of the Aggies. "There is a home feeling there. I like what those guys are doing. I like the school, the town, and I feel like everything is good and could be a good fit for me."

The Aggies inked arguably the top recruiting class in the modern-era last cycle, and it was headlined by four of the top defensive line prospects in the country, all of which are viewed as top-25 recruits, regardless of position. This is something that caught Mitchell's attention as he knows the quarterback is going to have to get the ball out and allow guys like him to make a play on the ball. 

"I would say that is big," Mitchell said of this. " A good DB wants great players around him. Good defensive linemen like those guys are going to get after the quarterback and make him throw the ball, so I can do what I do."

Mitchell was on campus in College Station earlier this month for a visit. 

"It was great just getting back up there again and seeing everyone," Mitchell said of the visit. "I was just getting to learn more about the program and continuing to build on the relationship with everybody. I would say my best relationship there is with Coach Fisher, Coach Durkin and Coach Rushing. They are great, funny guys and we stay in contact every week. I really like those guys as coaches and men."

Outside of the SEC programs, Oregon remains in the hunt for Mitchell's services, in large part due to Mitchell's longstanding relationship with the Duck's new Head Coach, Dan Lanning. 

"Coach Lanning is a great defensive mind," Mitchell said of what he likes about Oregon. "You see what he did with Georgia and helping them get a national championship. I feel like him going to Oregon is really going to help them because they weren't as dominant of a defense. I think it is really going to help those guys out there."

The appeal to get in on the grand level of what Lanning is building in Eugene is something that appeals to Mitchell. 

"I feel like that could possibly be a good fit for me because of that," Mitchell said. "Knowing they don't have that many defensive players in place, I know he needs someone like me to come in and help build to that dominant defense. So me possibly coming in and being the face of that would be big."

Mitchell plans to take an official visit to Oregon this summer, but he does not have a date set at this point. 

The final school on this list is Florida, and Billy Napier's new staff has wasted no time in making Mitchell a priority in this class, as he carried over a strong relationship with DB guru Corey Raymond, who was previously at LSU. 

"That is just like home for me," Mitchell said of the Gators. " I grew up in Florida, so all of my family is down there. I grew up watching them and all of the DBs that came through there. I feel like Coach Napier and this new staff are going to do great things there. Adding Corey Raymond helps them even more. His resume speaks for itself. He has plenty of first-rounders and Pro-Bowler defensive backs in the league. There is no question he can develop."

"He is a real good dude," Mitchell added about Raymond. "He is there for everybody and tries to help you and share his knowledge of the game. I feel like he is one of the best coaches I have come across. He is somebody I can trust with my game."

So as these heavy hitters are battling for the touted defensive back, does he have a decision timeline in mind?

"Signing Day," Mitchell said. "I don't have a time planned. But if I feel like the time's right, then I'll just do it, but as of now, Signing Day. I'm going to wait it out till December."

As Mitchell, a veteran on the recruiting scene, works towards the December decision, he knows what he is looking for in a school. 

The home feeling," he said, of what it will take to set one school apart from the rest. "The school that I enjoy myself, even without football. I could get hurt, and anything could happen, so I want to be somewhere where I'm happy. I want to be developed into the best man and player on the field. That's it."

Based on the programs recruiting Mitchell, it is apparent that his game speaks for itself, but what is it that he thinks makes him a standout prospect?

"I'd say my versatility," he said. "I can play anywhere in the secondary, and my physicality, able to run with pretty much anybody, tackling, I feel I'm a complete DB and got everything you could ask for.

Mitchell plays safety and corner at the high school level, and he hopes to play all across the secondary at the next level as well. 

"I don't have one I prefer," Mitchell said of a position preference. " I like all. Just with my game, trying to be the best. Wherever they put me on the field, I'll give my all for the team."

Despite the offers, Mitchell has no plans of being complacent with his game going into his senior season and preparing for the college level. 

"Getting better in every aspect of my game," Mitchell said of where he wants to see his game grow. " Better, faster. Grow more as a player, learn more. Just be the best I can be."

Mitchell has the offers and accolades behind his name to let his game speak for itself, but when asked if there was one thing he could tell anyone they should no about his game, the answer was simple. 

"I am a dawg. Gonna give 100% every play. Leave it all on the field."