A few weeks ago, Mike Hold and Allen Mitchell spent a relaxed, late-summer weekend together with their families at Mitchell’s lakefront home in Lexington. Another former South Carolina player, Jones Andrews, was there, too, all of them enjoying the weather and the water.
For USC fans with long memories, who recall Hold and Mitchell as rivals for the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback job during the Black Magic 1984 season, that sort of scene might sound unusual. Not so, Hold said.
“Allen was always a great guy, every time. I know he rooted for me to do well (in 1984), and I rooted for him to do well,” Hold, an assistant athletics director at Newberry College, said Monday — one day after the coroner’s office said Mitchell committed suicide.
“That’s why it’s so sad. All the ex-teammates are so shocked by this. You hear it a lot, but he was truly a friend to everyone. I honestly don’t know anyone who didn’t like Mitch.”
Mitchell, a native of Batesburg-Leesville, died Sunday morning. Lexington County chief deputy coroner Randy Martin confirmed that Mitchell’s death was a suicide. He was 48.
Surviving Mitchell is his wife, Meredith, and a son and daughter. Plans for services are incomplete; Milton Shealy Funeral Home in Lexington is in charge.
Hold had a hard time finding words to describe his one-time competitor. “The one interesting aspect of that (season) was how well we got along,” he said. “That’s just the kind of guy Mitch was. He was all about everyone else.”
Andrews, a Columbia attorney, was especially close to Mitchell. His office paralegal said Monday he was out for the day, dealing with the loss, and could not be reached.
Other former teammates recalled Mitchell as the consummate teammate. Del Wilkes, an All-America guard in 1984 when the Gamecocks finished 10-2 — the best record in school history before 2011’s 11-2 mark — said “if there was a guy who represented the entire team, it was Allen: not flashy, a work-pail sort of guy who did his job every day, didn’t need a pat on the back, always consistent and steady and dependable.”
Mitchell started 10 of 12 games in 1984 as a junior, with Hold playing late-game reliever, and finished with 780 yards passing and 116 yards rushing, completing 53.5 percent of his passes and throwing for seven touchdowns while rushing for four more. In 1985, Hold was the starter, with Mitchell mostly relegated to the bench during a 5-6 season.
But Wilkes said what has been overlooked is what USC’s 1984 media guide called Mitchell’s “Cinderella story” in 1983. Listed as the No. 4 quarterback before the season, Mitchell came off the bench vs. Duke and led the Gamecocks from a 14-0 deficit to a 31-24 victory, winning Sports Illustrated’s national offensive player of the week award.
“That (1984) team actually jelled in 1983, and the second half of the Duke game was Allen’s coming-out party,” Wilkes said. “He replaced (Bill) Bradshaw and played the rest of that year,” coach Joe Morrison’s debut season. Mitchell threw for 1,142 yards and five touchdowns, but was intercepted a then-school record 18 times.
Mitchell, who also played baseball at USC, was an all-state standout at Batesburg-Leesville High and played in the Shrine Bowl. He was not originally on scholarship at USC but was awarded a grant his freshman season.
After college, Mitchell worked for several firms in the Columbia area, including W.O. Whetstone and Bonitz. Carl Hill, a freshman All-American at defensive end in 1984 and now an architect, said he and Mitchell recently talked about doing some business together.
“It was a couple of weeks ago, and I really don’t know what was going on with him,” Hill said. “He was bragging about his son playing baseball that day. That’s why this hit me by surprise.
“He was a very good teammate, played hard and seemed to enjoy the game of life. Whatever led him to take his life, it’s a tragedy for his family, Gamecock fans and his ex-teammates.”
Wilkes said he sometimes saw Mitchell at USC home games. The two weren’t close in recent years, “but there’s still that bond that comes from being teammates.
“I was talking (Sunday) about Allen to Bill Barnhill,” USC’s left tackle in 1984, “and there was a quaver in Bill’s voice. This just floors you, coming out of left field,” Wilkes said.
“You feel like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, not Allen.’ It shakes you to your boots.”