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Northwest coach motivates through experience

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An alum, McMitchell encourages team to reach |

beyond the neighborhood

By ERICKA P. THOMPSON

When Ken McMitchell thinks about quitting he thinks about his players.

He imagines what their life is like and what they have to go through to make it to school, let alone practice. He’s picked players up from home because they didn’t have a ride, he’s seen players without tennis shoes because roaches eroded the bottom and he’s seen talent fall to the lure of the street. Yet, he keeps coming back.

As football coach of the Northwest Space Pioneers since 1994 when he was over the freshman team, McMitchell says he can’t give up. The school, the neighborhood and the players are in his heart.

“He tells us all the time that he’s not quitting,” says senior defensive back Calvin Harris. “It’s good to know that he’s not giving up on us.”

Adds McMitchell, “It gets challenging at times but you always see a glimmer of hope,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s unrealistic or not but there’s always something that keeps you coming back.”

A graduate of Northwest, McMitchell understands that he has a special connection to his players. “I’m from where they’re from,” he says. Which is why through the years as he’s seen his roster dwindle from 85 players to only 35 this season he keeps coming back.

“I’ve been here since my freshmen year,” says junior defensive back Dionte Keys. “(Coach’s) leadership and dedication is a big inspiration. He went to a big college and played in the NFL but he’s here, in IPS. People talk bad about IPS but he’s still here and to me, that show’s his character.”

McMitchell believes the team can compete this season though they’re small in height and depth. He says the switch from Class 5A to 4A should help slightly though they’ll likely meet last season’s 4A state champion Cathedral in the Regional round.

“I don’t fear any IPS team,” he says. “I’m not bragging, it’s just that they have the same kind of guys that I have.”

Meaning most, if not all, IPS football teams lack in the area of facilities, uniforms and equipment compared to the township schools like Warren Central, North Central or Lawrence North that they play against. (Former Northwest player, Paul Spicer, currently a defensive end with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars purchased the team new uniforms.)

To keep his guys motivated, McMitchell often talks about his days when he stood in their shoes on the very field they practice on. He encourages by telling stories of his days as a Oklahoma Sooner and how he was able to stay focused and achieve.

“I tell the kids you have to have a drive to succeed in this race,” he says. “Some of the kids don’t see themselves going to college. They’ll say, ‘You made it but I’m not going to.’ I just have to keep motivating.”

McMitchell’s speech has reached some of his players.

Harris hopes to play football at the University of Indianapolis and Keys is looking to play at IU.

The Space Pioneers’ featured running back, junior Eric Prather has his sights set on the University of Michigan, a school he’s been dreaming to attend since he was a kid.

Prather, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, carried the ball 35 times for 145 yards last Friday in a 19-6 loss to Lebanon.

“Coach shows us that if we work hard, we’ll get what we deserve,” said Prather. “I believe he’s going to be a major part of my life.”

Adds Harris, “He talks a lot of about how he went to Northwest and ended up going to Oklahoma,” he says. “It makes me feel like I can do that. I can be just like him.”

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