NFL quarterback legend Scott Mitchell grew up in Springville, envisioning himself playing for the Cougars a few miles north of the hometown where he led his high school to its first-ever state championship. LaVell Edwards — his relative — sat in Scott’s living room on the first day it was permitted and named him their top recruit. Scott had cradled a football since birth, when his father ran out and bought a ball and a “boy outfit” — thrilled to have his youngest child also be his first boy. Together, this father-son duo roared for BYU. Scott attended athletic camps in Provo and even shared a dorm room with Gifford Nielsen, who impressed Scott with his consistent prayers and scripture study.
So it was a surprise to everyone — including Scott — when he agonized over which college jersey he would wear. Two days before his February signing deadline, he found himself on his knees praying for an answer. While he was seeking help for the biggest decision of his life, his mom yelled down the stairs with a phone call. Unhappy about the interruption, Scott almost didn’t take the call. But it was Jim Fassel, the head coach of the University of Utah. Scott came to the phone and halfway through their conversation, he was flooded with a peaceful feeling that told him he was to put on a red uniform.
Utah County didn’t react well. Scott was booed and heard chants of “BYU” at the rest of his Red Devil basketball games.
In fact, Scott doesn’t believe the community warmed up to him again until decades later when two events humanized him in the eyes of Cougar Country. First, during one of Scott’s four seasons as head football coach at Springville High School, a player was tragically killed and the community united in shock and mourning. Second, his hometown cheered for him as a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” a year ago, where he lost 120+ pounds and gained an entirely new fan base that saw him shed a 366-pound shell that had been built by emotion as much as by Beto’s breakfast burritos.
As a Crimson Club board member and Utah Hall of Famer, Scott still bleeds red for both Utah and Springville High. In fact, his two youngest children play sports for Springville and Scott earlier this year pledged to donate $1 to the school’s athletic department for each copy sold at the first signing of his book “Alive Again,” which turns his life into an open book — including a story about his dad’s extra-marital affair and his family’s inability to reach financial stability when he was Springville’s superboy.
As it turns out, losing weight is what helped Scott finally gain perspective on why his life hadn’t yet had a storybook ending to any of life’s chapters. Now this father of five dishes up healthy meals and a healthy outlook on how losing is sometimes the biggest personal victory.
Scott Mitchell grew up eating at La Casita in Springville before spending his NFL career in the east as quarterback for the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions.
“They have great Jamaican and Cuban food, but nobody out there could fix authentic Mexican,” Scott says.
When he and his wife, Wendy, were listing the pros and cons of returning to Utah, they listed the mountains, friends, being close to the University of Utah … “And Springville has La Casita,” they wrote on the “pro” list.
That sealed the deal.
The pre-weight-loss Scott sometimes ate at La Casita every day. The Springville restaurant even created his own menu item — the Scott Mitchell special is carne asada with shrimp, green sauce and shredded beef enchilada — no beans, all rice.
“It’s a lot of food, and it is to die for!” Scott says.
But it’s exactly the dying that Scott became afraid of.
Like father, love father
Scott watched his father’s 450-pound body destroyed by obesity and diabetes for six years before he passed away in January 2014.
“As he was dying, we wanted more privacy in his hospital room,” Scott says. “When the door was pulled closed, I noticed for the first time there were stickers of butterflies. It hit me. My dad was a worn-out caterpillar who was going into a cocoon. Someday he would again be a beautiful butterfly and shed his overweight, caterpillar body.”
Scott felt as if his dad was saying, “You don’t have to be like me. Shed your extra weight while you still can.”
As the only son, Scott was fearful of “the Ghost of Christmas Future” he saw on his dad’s hospital bed. Scott didn’t want to have his feet amputated or suffer cellulitis.
Shortly after his dad died, Scott says the “The Biggest Loser” opportunity fell into his lap. He felt a strong impression that he should go on the show because he had just seen how his story would end if he didn’t make changes.
“We all have transformation opportunities around us — butterfly moments — if we embrace and understand them,” says this 47-year-old father of five.
Even so, Scott shocked himself by being willing to go on the show and talk about his life in front of millions and expose his shirtless 366-pound frame.
“I was absolutely terrified, but the willingness to do it completely saved me in the end,” he says.
The producers of the show told Scott he was one of the most unhealthy contestants they had ever had, and that includes those who had never been healthy or athletic in their lives. Scott’s triglycerides were off the charts, and his sleep apnea was even worse. He stopped breathing 96 times per hour.
“I was a ticking time bomb,” Scott says.
For 4.5 months, Scott was away from his family. They could write letters, but Scott didn’t have access to a computer or a TV. Wendy couldn’t tell people why her husband was missing.
“People thought I was in prison or rehab — or that we were having marital problems,” he says.
Wendy would say he was in California on business, and friends would offer to watch the kids so she could visit him.
[pullquote]“I started to cry. I don’t remember a lot of what was said after that. But for the next 30 minutes, I really wanted to feel the core of everything that had happened to me in my life. It was unreal.” —Scott Mitchell[/pullquote]
“It was a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain,” Scott says.
But the gain came in more ways than weight loss. Early in the season of “The Biggest Loser,” Scott had an on-camera interview with his trainer, Dolvett.
“We got into the flow with small talk, and then a butterfly landed on his shoe and sat there,” says Scott, who immediately flashed back to the butterflies in his dad’s hospital room. “I started to cry. I don’t remember a lot of what was said after that. But for the next 30 minutes, I really wanted to feel the core of everything that had happened to me in my life. It was unreal.”
One of Scott’s biggest revelations is that his weight problem had more to do with his mom’s choice to avoid dealing with her emotions than with his dad’s unhealthy physical habits.
Dolvett asked Scott if he hated his mom.
“At first I said, ‘yes,’ but then I also said, ‘no, I don’t hate her but I hate that she was so closed off emotionally.’”
Scott wanted answers about why his family had gone through hard times even while he was bringing home state championship trophies for the Red Devils.
Since the show, Scott’s mother filled him in on the emotional trauma of his dad’s affairs and other consequence-causing behaviors.
“Now everything makes sense to me — including the eviction notices,” Scott says.
Scott’s parents had bought a house in Springville and spent years remodeling it as a family.
“It was the only time in my growing up years that I really felt like we had it together as a family,” Scott says. “Right before my junior year, my dad came home and said we had to move, and within a week we were gone. After that, my parents had a lot of financial problems and things were never the same.”
From that moment on, Scott has identified that he had an unmet desire to “go home” — to find a place full of love and stability.
“I hadn’t realized how much that moment impacted me until I was on the show and processing my emotions,” Scott says.
As a Ute and NFL quarterback, Scott Mitchell was always proud to claim his hometown as Springville — but he didn’t plan to return to Art City for longer than a Thanksgiving break. He was living in Orlando, where he had previously quarterbacked the Miami Dolphins, when he got a phone call asking if he would be interested in coaching football at Springville High School.
He said no and hung up.
“My wife, Wendy — who is from Michigan and had never lived in Utah — thought it sounded wonderful and told me to call them back,” Scott says. “We came here in a snowstorm and my family was elated. We had this overwhelming sense that this is where we needed to be.”
Now Scott and Wendy — and their two children — have been back in Utah County for nearly eight years and are building a new home in Springville. Although Scott no longer coaches his alma mater, he counts that four-season chapter as an essential part of his butterfly transformation.
The first day Scott coached, a player came up and said he had heard talk of a professional football career.
“Were you any good?” he asked Scott.
“It was like he was saying, ‘Coach, you are over 300 pounds, and I’ve never heard of you. I’m just not seeing it.’”
Scott didn’t directly answer his question, but he told him to go home and do his research. The next day the player said, “You showed up on Google so you must have been good.”
Scott brought his “good” to his head coaching career for the 2008-2011 seasons. Wendy had encouraged Scott to give everything to his part-time coaching career.
“If you come back here and don’t do a good job, it’s going to look bad,” she told him. Scott later found out that people were worried because they didn’t think he would put the time and effort into it.
But Scott had painted too many houses with his dad to be capable of doing a sloppy job at anything with his name attached.
Coat of Paint
Scott’s football work ethic was groomed alongside his perfectionistic painting father.
“I hated it with a passion,” Scott remembers. “I had to do the prep work — the sanding, the taping. My dad would always rub his hands on the walls. ‘That’s not good enough,’ he would say. As I kid, I just wanted to get through it, but he wanted it to be perfect.”
Scott learned that it’s easier to do it right the first time than to do it again. Although the lesson has stuck with Scott, the paintbrush has long since dried out.
“I still hate to paint,” he says. “If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I purposely do a poor job so I won’t get asked to paint anything ever again.”
When the Mitchells remodeled their kitchen, the painter they hired said he had been mentored by Scott’s father, which Scott says was one of life’s beautiful turn of events.
Although Scott doesn’t like to layer coats of color on walls, he does enjoy layering lessons of life and football on the players he coaches.
Scott’s first outing as the Springville head coach in 2008 didn’t end with a W. Neither did the second.
“We looked terrible, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into,” he says.
After the second game, the team gathered to watch the game film. Scott stopped the film abruptly, turned on the lights and excused all the coaches from the room.
“I said, ‘What is going on here? You are better than this! You have been coached better than this!’” Scott says.
He was shocked at how the players responded. They were afraid they were going to get benched. The players didn’t believe they could sustain a drive. They didn’t believe they would win the game.
“What they were afraid of was exactly what was happening,” Scott says. “The mind is powerful.”
Scott told them they were capable of scoring 50 points, and that is exactly what he wanted them to do in the next game.
They took the field against Wasatch for their third game and won 31-7.
“You guys didn’t believe me, did you?” he said to his players in the post-game meeting. “Every person in this room knows we should have scored 50 points. I’m not going to accept this.”
The next week, Springville beat Provo 51-21.
“We often expect too little of ourselves,” Scott says. “We are afraid of failing, but failure is exactly what creates a solid foundation where we can grow and blossom.”
Failure for the Win
Although Scott made millions in the NFL and set single-season records for the Detroit Lions in touchdown passes and passing yards, his career wasn’t everything Scott thought it should have been. His college career wasn’t everything his heart wanted it to be, either.
“My decision to choose the University of Utah was a very personal experience, and I didn’t tell anyone about my prayer being answered. Not even my parents,” he says. “I was shocked at how shocked everyone was at my decision to not go to BYU.”
But there were years when he wondered if he had made a mistake.
[pullquote]“Ty Detmer came to BYU and won the Heisman. They went to a bowl game. And I thought, ‘What do I have here at the U? Guys going to prison for selling drugs.’” —Scott Mitchell[/pullquote]
“Ty Detmer came to BYU and won the Heisman. They went to a bowl game,” Scott says. “And I thought, ‘What do I have here at the U? Guys going to prison for selling drugs.’”
Scott says watching the Cougars succeed without him was hard because of how he’s “wired.” He struggled that the record book didn’t confirm his college decision.
“I’m wired that you do the job right and you win,” he says. “I didn’t fully understand why I had to go to the U until later. Now I know that being at the U forced me to decide what I really believed and what was important in my life. I had to be in that environment for that to happen.”
On “The Biggest Loser,” Scott had a powerful moment when he realized his “failures” have made him the person he is today.
“I now value and cherish my disappointments and setbacks as much if not more than the successes I have had,” he says.
Scott learned that we don’t have a “butterfly moment” just one time when we die — we can transform many times.
Scott’s life philosophies are characterized with his favorite sun analogy.
“The morning light hits us in a certain way, and as the sun goes throughout the day, the intensity and direction with which it hits us changes,” he says. “There were things when I was younger — in the morning of my life —that I didn’t appreciate like I do now. But now that the ‘sun’ hits me differently, I know the meaning of things I didn’t understand earlier.”
The Family Man
Scott is squarely focused on his family as his receivers these days, with three grown children from his first marriage and two teenagers with his wife, Wendy.
He wants to create the home he didn’t have in his youth — which he describes as the opposite of “Leave It To Beaver.” His mid-life “sunlight” helps him understand that his mom shut down emotionally as a way of surviving.
“My mom is a saint — the most talented person I’ve ever met,” he says. “But my dad hurt my mom in a lot of ways in their marriage. And yet she took care of him to the end. The last six years of his life, she slept with one eye open because he needed care like a newborn baby. She believed she had made a covenant with my dad to stay together.”
This lesson in marital devotion is powerful for Scott, who married in an LDS Temple while he was at the University of Utah, only to see that marriage end and watch his ex-wife take their three children with her, which he describes as “the saddest day of my life.”
Later he married Wendy at Disney World, and after the couple had two children, Wendy and her mother both joined the LDS Church.
Scott baptized his wife and has built a strong relationship with his mother-in-law — taking her on a two-week trip to Italy because she didn’t have someone else to go with.
“We’re even moving in with her while we build our house in Springville,” Scott says. “But she tells me I can’t bring my favorite omelet pan. We’ll have to work that out.”
New game in town
“Life is so much harder now than it was for me in the NFL,” he says. “Not everyone can play football at that level. But I could be an NFL quarterback and it wasn’t that hard. In fact, it was kinda easy.”
Scott’s gameplan now includes running his business Kinum (which provides solutions for accounts receivables and collections) and serving in an LDS ward bishopric.
When Scott was retiring, a mentor told him that the next phase of his life would develop skills and talents that had been lying dormant.
“That advice was right as rain,” Scott says. “I am challenged by how to figure things out, and that comes from being a quarterback, where I had to take all these different people and get them to work together for one cause. That’s a life skill I’ll never retire from.”