Troup High graduate achieves his goal
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The fire, the drive, the desire to be a part of something greater than himself has been there since childhood.
Mitch Mathes, a football standout at Troup High who went on to play the sport at Mercer University in Macon, has long known that one day he would become a member of the United States military in some capacity.
“It was early on in my life,” Mathes recalls. “I had a cousin who was an Army Ranger. I knew I really wanted to go in the military.”
For Mathes, that aspiration was always there, even as football became a central aspect of his life.
Mathes excelled as an offensive lineman at Troup and was an all-state player, and he went to Mercer on a football scholarship and joined the team as a freshman in 2015.
Mathes graduated from Mercer in December of 2018, and with a degree in hand, he felt the time was right to make good on his nearly life-long ambition.
Mathes joined the United States Marine Corps in the fall of 2019, and after completing the 10-week Officer Candidates School and becoming a Second Lieutenant, he began a six-month officer-training course. When Mathes is finished with what’s known as The Basic School (TBS), he’ll find out where he’ll be based, and he will embark on the next stage of his life as a Marine officer.
For Mathes, the journey to this point has been a challenging one.
From a physical standpoint, Mathes underwent a massive transformation while losing more than 100 pounds, going from a beefy offensive lineman, to someone who has the physique of a long-distance runner.
“About three quarters of the way through college, I flipped the switch and decided to really pursue a military career,” Mathes said. “After I graduated in December of 2018, I knew I had to get in great shape, so I started pushing.”
That effort required Mathes to expend a great deal of energy, both physical and mental.
“At first, it was difficult trying to transform my body from explosiveness, to endurance,” Mathes said. “Being a lineman, you have to be explosive. In order to change that, I had to completely cut back on eating all the carbohydrates. That was the biggest change, and second was running. That’s how I really cut the pounds off, doing more endurance workouts.”
“The mental aspect,” Mathes added, “was also very prevalent during the whole process. You can’t stop. There were times where I messed up and gained a few pounds, and I had to get back after it in the gym.”
Through it all, Mathes had the support of so many people including his parents, Kirt and Melissa, his brother Ryan who is a member of the Troup County Fire Department, his girlfriend Nikki Clepper, his trainer Kane Bradfield, as well as his former head football coach at Troup, Lynn Kendall.
“I just kept talking to my parents,” Mathes said. “Mom and dad, I said I want to do this, and they said we’ll back you up no matter what. Just go all in. Whatever you do, go all in. I was close to the coaches at Troup High School, especially coach Kendall, and he said to keep pushing.”
Kendall had no doubt his former player could achieve his goals.
“I’ve known him since he was in middle school,” Kendall said. “As he went through school with us, Mitch has always had a warrior mentality. His work ethic is second to none. If there’s something that needs to be done to improve his strength, or his game, or whatever, he was going to do that.”
Mathes shed the pounds and was fit and slim, and he joined his fellow officer hopefuls for a grueling 10-week training course in Quantico, Va.
“To stay with the pack was really a challenge, and it was really enjoyable to be with people who really pushed you to be better all-around,” Mathes said. “It was a struggle. One of the events was where we did all kinds of squad tactics, and we had to learn how to lead a squad effectively, navigate through a challenge, and we walked more than 30 miles a day. It was a challenge. You really find out who you are as a person.”
One of the goals of Officer Candidates School is to instill in each of the men the importance of putting others before yourself.
“Going into the military as an officer, you have to be selfless,” Mathes said. “They preach about it. It’s about the people you’re going to lead, the Marines you’re going to lead. You have to get in that mindset. People who were there for the other people shined.”
The next stage for Mathes is The Basic School, which is also in Quantico, and that’s what he’s going through now.
“It’ll be six months of learning how to lead Marines, how to be proficient in leadership styles, and conquering the basic portion of being a Marine officer,” Mathes said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the Marines you’re going to be leading.”
While the stakes are clearly higher now than when Mathes was playing football, he’s grateful for the lessons he learned through all of his years playing the sport.
“A lot of people think going in the military you’re going to be on your own, doing your own thing, but as an officer, you have to know how to cooperate with a team,” Mathes said. “For 13 years I played football, and every day was a team event. If someone messed up, the whole team messed up. It’s the same thing in the military. If somebody doesn’t run fast enough, the instructors, then we’re all punished. You have to learn to communicate with each other effectively, and care about the person to your left and your right.”
Mathes is, though, keenly aware that each person bears the personal responsibility to do what’s necessary to succeed.
“There’s no other way around it. Nobody’s going to do it for you,” Mathes said. “It can only be done by you. That’s a major thing. If I can do it, anyone can. I know that’s a very generic comment, but it’s having that want-to, and that drive.”
That “want-to”, Kendall believes, is something Mathes has in droves.
“His mental toughness is huge, his intellect is awesome, and he cares about what he does, whether it was in the classroom or in the football field,” Kendall said. “He really cares about what he’s doing. He’s not going to short-change anybody. If he commits, that’s a commitment.”
While there is plenty of responsibility on Mathes’ shoulders, he has not had to navigate this journey alone, and he is so appreciative of everyone who has offered him a helping hand along the way.
“It’s hard to say all the names, and all the people that have aided me in this process,” Mathes said. “I’m especially thankful for the community I was raised in. I’m giving back to the community that gave so much to me.”