When Scott Mitchell walked away from the NFL after the 2001 season, he essentially gave up on a healthy lifestyle.
"When I retired from football, I really retired from it all. I hated going to the gym. I gained weight, but I always knew I could lose it," Mitchell said last week in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "I got to the point where I just gave up. I resigned myself to, 'I'm crazy about food and I'm just going to be a fat person.'"
More than a decade after leaving the NFL, with his weight at 366 pounds, a series of factors and events helped the former University of Utah quarterback realize he needed to change his life.
Mitchell is one of 20 former athletes being showcased on the 16th season of NBC's "The Biggest Loser: Glory Days." The list includes former New England Patriot Damien Woody, Olympic gold medalist and former tennis pro Zina Garrison and former WNBA standout Vanessa Hayden. The show premiers Thursday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. MDT.
Mitchell, who grew up in Springville, was drafted in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in 1990 and backed up NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino. He went on to play for the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens over a 12-year career. In 2010, Mitchell was inducted in the University of Utah Hall of Fame.
After retirement, Mitchell coached high school football for a few years before becoming busy with a software business and a family with five young kids. A poor diet resulted in significant weight gain. He also suffered from sleep apnea and high blood pressure.
Then last January, Mitchell's father died from complications with diabetes. In the last six years of his life, Mitchell's father endured a leg amputation, cellulitis, gangrene and other complications. He weighed 450 pounds at the time of his death. Mitchell believes his father played a role in getting him on "The Biggest Loser."
"I saw my future. That’s what is going to happen to me. I am going to die, and I’m a lot further along in that process," Mitchell said. "He said, 'You don't want to be like me.' I felt like coming here (to 'The Biggest Loser') was his gift to me. He wanted me to have a better life and do something more."
Even after his father died, Mitchell wasn't looking to be on a reality weight-loss show. What happened was really a "divine accident," he said.
As Mitchell prepared to play in Utah's alumni flag football game prior to the spring game last April, he was surprised to learn that roads in Salt Lake City would be closed due to traffic from the football game, Salt Lake Comic Con, the Salt Lake Marathon and open auditions for "The Biggest Loser" at KSL's Triad Center. As he investigated further, he noticed "The Biggest Loser" was looking for former athletes.
"A voice inside said do this, so I filled out an online application and submitted it," Mitchell said.
His family wasn't too keen on the idea, but on Saturday, April 19, he played in the flag football game and drove to the Triad Center where he found a short line. But just when things seemed to fall into place, Mitchell got cold feet, he said.
"At that moment, I said, 'I’m not going to do this. I don’t want to subject myself to public ridicule. I live a private life. I’m not going to do this' and I drove away," he said. "My wife and kids are like, 'Yeah, you don’t have time to do that, there is no way, you don’t want to do that.'"
Three weeks later he got a phone call from the show's casting director, who had located his application and wanted to talk. Once again, Mitchell felt he should go on the show. This time he relented.
After submitting to a screening process, Mitchell was told he had one of the worst cases of sleep apnea they have ever seen. He stopped breathing 92 times an hour in his sleep. His triglycerides were also the worst "The Biggest Loser" had ever seen, Mitchell said. Even so, he was eventually selected for the show.
"They almost didn’t allow me from a health perspective to come on the show," Mitchell said. "But I know I need to do this. Someone is looking out for me. This is a blessing and gift from heaven."
The show began filming during the summer. Mitchell wasn't allowed to talk about the show, but trainer Dolvett Quince hinted that positive things were happening for Mitchell. He described the former quarterback as a natural leader with "determination."
"You're going to see a guy who steps up. You're going to see a guy who is willing to step up emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually," Quince said. "You're going to see the layers of a great human being on the program."
Mitchell wants to be healthy for his family and embrace a healthy lifestyle.
"I've found my life and what really matters to me. This has been an amazing, life-changing journey for me here," Mitchell said. "I don’t have all the answers here, but I know this is a life-long journey. My goal is to still be at a healthy weight in five years. I have been given the tools and support to help me build a foundation for a healthy life."
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