Before moving to Heber Springs, Ark. as a sophomore, Braylon Mitchell grew up 60 miles south in Rose City near North Little Rock. Steve Janski was working his way up on the coaching staffs of both the University of Arkansas and at East Carolina University. However, both would end up relocating to Heber Springs and begin a three year player/coach relationship at Heber Springs High.
"Braylon started for us at running back his sophomore year," said Janski. "And gained over 1,000 yards rushing. Then he ran for close to 2,000 yards as a junior. We kept him at running back for his senior year, but also used him at inside linebacker where he led the team in tackles while running for over 1,700 yards."
Braylon Mitchell committed to the University of Arkansas in early July prior to his senior year. He called Tim Horton, the recruiting coordinator at Arkansas as well as the running back and tight end coach, and told him he wanted to play for the Razorbacks.
Ronnie Wingo Jr. last year who has a similar build to Mitchell's and became part of the Hogs' running game rotation. However, Janksi thinks Mitchell has a big upside on defense.
"Brayon's one of the most physical kids I've ever coached," said Janski. "At 6-2, 225 he runs about a 4.6 40, but what he lacks in speed he certainly makes up for in power.
"This year was the first time he's been on defense in his entire career, and he was right up there with the hardest hitters I've seen play. I kind of think that's where his future may lie at the next level, on defense. Petrino, though, he loves those big, powerful backs, so we'll see what happens."
Janski says the move to play Mitchell on defense after two sensational offensive seasons came from necessity.
"We brought him in in certain situations as a junior," Janski explained. "If it was third down and we wanted to blitz we'd bring him in to rush the quarterback. He started making big plays, so as a senior we had him on defense on every play."
Mitchell already has a family member who is a big part of the Arkansas family in first cousin Corliss Williamson. With one other offer on the table from Arkansas State and Ole Miss beginning to show a lot of interest, Mitchell decided to give his pledge to play in Fayetteville.
"Being an Arkansas kid played a big part in his decision," said Janski. "I think a lot of kids who grow up in this state dream of someday playing for the University of Arkansas. My office is filled with Arkansas stuff having coached there. It was my alma mater. He went up there and loved it and is excited about the opportunity he's been given."
Mitchell took his official visit to the Fayetteville campus the weekend of January 16-17. Everything should be in place for Mitchell to join the team after his high school's graduation.
"He's a great student, 3.0 GPA," Janski said of Mitchell's classroom performance. "He's only had a detention once the whole time he's been here, and that was for chewing gum. Braylon's a hard worker. He's a good kid with a great smile and comes from a nice family. Always a 'yes sir' 'no sir' type of kid, very well-mannered and polite."
On defense, No. 2 Mitchell had 85 tackles, six tackles for a loss, eight quarterback hurries, two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a blocked punt. At running back, he had 1,738 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season. He helped the Heber Spring Panthers to a 10-3 record in the 4A division.
At Heber Springs High, Mitchell also runs track and has played on the basketball team.