HIS GROWING-UP DAYS were influenced by the passingest (and most successful) football program in the free world. When he dropped back in junior high, he imagined he was Gifford Nielsen. By high school, it was Jim McMahon and Steve Young. When he was a senior at Springville High, six miles south of Provo, he hoisted a chocolate malt to salute Robbie Bosco's achievement - namely, leading Brigham Young University to the national championship.
Scott Mitchell was well aware of what, and who, were in his backyard."I was as blue as they come," he recalls.
He didn't like the BYU Cougars, he loved the BYU Cougars. Their stadium was a regular hangout in the fall. Their heroics were his heroics. He loved to watch the Saturday afternoon blowouts, where he could study the All-American quarterbacks. The Cougars regularly made his weekends.
His dad, Bill, played football for Brigham Young, albeit briefly, in 1955, when Chick Atkinson was the coach. His mother, Della Mitchell, also attended BYU, as did any number of cousins, aunts and uncles. His grandmother, Mary Mitchell, is LaVell Edwards' first cousin - the same LaVell Edwards who coached Nielsen and McMahon and Bosco and wound up with that national championship in '84.
A Mitchell family reunion always had more Cougar roots than it had jello salad. Brig Mitchell, the family patriarch, had kept the family true to his first name.
Well, until Scott.
Just what went wrong, some of the older ones are still trying to sort out - particularly today. But you know teenagers, sometimes they have their own ideas about things. And Scott, he got it in his head that after he graduated from Springville High he wouldn't go down the road to BYU. He'd go further down the road to - sit down and take a deep breath - Utah.
The University of.
In Salt Lake.
You may have caught his act, as a Ute, yesterday in Rice Stadium.
That was Springville's Scott Mitchell throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns in Utah's 57-28 win over BYU. That was Springville's Scott Mitchell leading the biggest point-parade against BYU in the entire 64-year BYU-Utah rivalry, and the most points ever scored against a (cousin) LaVell Edwards-coached team. And, in passing, that was Springville's Scott Mitchell who finished the season with a pair of NCAA records, winding up with more passing attempts (533) and more passing yards per game (392.9) than anyone in NCAA history.
The previous holders of those records were Robbie Bosco and Jim McMahon, respectively.
"My dream was always to play like those guys," said Mitchell.
The Ute part of the dream didn't come into focus until later.
He'd always assumed he'd be a Cougar, too. But by the time his senior year of high school rolled around, a couple of factors swayed him further north.
One, Utah, under new Coach Jim Fassel and offensive coordinator Jack Reilly, had switched to a passing attack.
And Two - and this was a big thing in the mind of a decorated high school quarterback - BYU's prosperity meant too many quarterbacks already in line.
As a high school senior, Mitchell, even if he was 6-foot-6, had a hard time seeing past the credentialed quarterbacks already on the ladder at BYU - Steve Lindsley, Bob Jensen and Sean Covey.
Even if he got past the two older ones, Lindsley and Jensen, he'd have to deal with Covey, and Mitchell knew all about Covey, a decorated Utah County quarterback in his own right who, while a senior at Provo High when Mitchell was a freshman at Springville, won the state championship and drilled Springville along the way.
The above conspired to create an agonizing decision for Mitchell; and the fact that the University of Utah was doing a better recruiting job - by about two to one, according to family sources - didn't help matters. Neither did the fact that at the football camps at BYU and Utah the summer before his senior season, the Ute camp made far the better impression.
His parents cleared out of the way and told him to make up his own mind. They sent him to live with a relative in Arizona for a couple of weeks before signing his letter-of-intent, just to make sure.
"That was a tough time, a tough decision," said Mitchell yesterday. "I'd seen all the great BYU years. I'd watched all the great quarterbacks . . ."
"But I still felt like the opportunity for me to improve and develop was better at Utah."
"Now," he says, "I'm as red as anyone here."
That much was obvious yesterday as the Utes beat the Cougars for only the second time in 17 years - and only the fifth time since Scott Mitchell was born.
The Cougars were drilled by a kid who'd worshipped them, and who still thinks they're one of the classiest programs in all of college football.
"There's no revenge factor with me and BYU at all," says Mitchell, who got a personal letter from LaVell Edwards congratulating him on his season a couple of weeks ago. "I have great respect for them . . . even if they are the enemy."
"Today," said Mitchell, "was a dream come true." And it will remain that way . . . at least until the next family reunion.