NEWTOWN SQUARE >> The transformation of Delaware County Christian School senior Stephen Mitchell, on and off the football field, is an inspirational story.
Mitchell is the foster child of Janice Triplett, who is a marriage and family therapist in the Delaware Valley. She took Mitchell in at age 10 and saved him from years of hardship and abuse. Triplett, who has played the role of foster parent before, saw what Mitchell could be. But it would require patience.
“That’s why I thought Delco Christian would be the perfect environment for Stephen,” Triplett said. “He would have been lost if he stayed in the public school system. I wanted the best education for him.”
Mitchell found football a year before coming to DC.
“It was in middle school, the eighth grade, when I tried out,” he said. “All of my friends from my old school talked about trying out and I thought, I might as well do it too. It was a fun experience then, so I decided to come out for the team when I got here.”
His high school coach, Drew Pearson, would arrive at Delco Christian prior to his sophomore year. Pearson remembers a shy kid who struggled to make grades. Mitchell was behind the curve on the football field, too.
“He was a bit out of shape and had no real football fundamentals,” Pearson recalled.
It would take time, but Mitchell changed his life at Delco Christian by applying himself in the classroom and putting in extra time in the weight room.
“He just dedicated himself and believed that he could be a really good football player. He kind of made it through that sophomore year and we would see him doing drills, and we were like, ‘Man, this kid is quick and explosive.’ He was very natural,” Pearson said. “So, in the offseason after his sophomore year, we challenged him. If you dedicate yourself in the weight room and really get after it, you can be a very good player. He believed it, he recognized it and he worked his tail end off for two years. He started last year and this year he’s just completely dominating.”
When he was younger, Mitchell had a tough time trusting adults. He didn’t respond well to direction and his grades suffered. Mitchell remembers the uneasy feeling of transitioning to his new school.
“My freshman year, coach wasn’t here at the time,” the 5-11, 230-pound Mitchell said. “Academically, I struggled, so I couldn’t play football. Football has always been my only sport, really. So when I came out my next year I wanted to work harder and proved that I belonged.
“But it was a huge adjustment. I wasn’t sure how everyone was at the school, the atmosphere, and meeting new people. When I came here, a lot of the people that are here have grown up with each other and went to this school for years. It was different for me.”
Pearson calls Delco Christian a “brotherhood,” and Mitchell needed to put in the time and commitment to feel welcome.
“As a program and as a school, how can we develop the whole person?” Pearson said. “From a social standpoint, he’s a different kid today. Whereas before, he had a tough time looking you in the eye and trusting you.”
At Delco Christian, Mitchell found something he had been searching for his entire life: Acceptance. And with his mom and Coach Pearson by his side, Mitchell stayed on the right path. “He’s like a son to me,” Pearson said.
“When I first met Coach, he was an interesting dude,” Mitchell said. “He supported me the entire time. He always made sure to see how I was doing, always asking me how I was. Especially during the season, he just made sure that I had the help that I needed.”
Mitchell’s low grades kept him from playing his freshman year. He was ineligible for three games his sophomore year for the same reason. By junior year, everything clicked. Mitchell was a starter on the offensive and defensive lines for the Knights. And this year? It’s come full circle. Pearson said Mitchell is enjoying the best season of any Knights player.
Friday night, Mitchell and the Knights (10-1) look to win their second straight District One/12 Class A Sub-Regional title when meet Bishop McDevitt (5-6) at Hatboro-Horsham.
Mitchell raised his grade-point average from a 1.5 his freshman year to a 3.55 today. And he cracked the dean’s list in the first quarter, which was a proud moment for everyone who never gave up on Mitchell.
“It was awesome,” said Mitchell, who is interested in attending Penn State. “I realized I had to pick up my pace. My sophomore year, even though I did play most of the season, I was ineligible for three games and I didn’t want that to happen again. I had to step it up both on the field and in the classroom.”
As for his mom, what more can he say? If it wasn’t for Janice Triplett, Mitchell doesn’t know where he would be today.
The little things, such as hearing Mitchell’s name announced after he makes a tackle, are enough to put a big smile on mom’s face.
“She’s helped me out with everything,” Mitchell said. “At first I didn’t want to come here because I didn’t want to leave friends from my other school, but she thought this would be better suited for me, that I could apply myself to academics and all that. Honestly, at first when I was a freshman, I didn’t like it here. Now I love it.”
Delco Christian loves him right back.
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