As freshman running back Keaton Mitchell leads the East Carolina football team (3-2-0, 1-0-0 American Athletic Conference) in yardage each game, The East Carolinian has chosen him as Athlete of the Month for October.
After five games, the Pirates have managed to get three wins out of five games. The past three games have given ECU a three-game winning streak which includes the first conference win of the season against Tulane University (1-4-0, 0-1-0 AAC).
Throughout all five games, Mitchell has consistently been responsible for the large plays the team has gotten to get them down the field. Head coach Mike Houston was impressed with Mitchell in the first home win versus Charleston Southern University (1-2-0, 0-1-0) as he was able to weave through the defense and get the Pirates on the board with an early 74-yard touchdown.
“If you give him a crease you know, he’s gonna make something happen. He did a great job tonight,” head coach Mike Houston said. “When we needed to get the momentum back, he was really the one that gave us that spark.”
Mitchell is a 5-foot-9 running back from McDonough, Georgia, where he went to Eagles Landing Christian Academy and then signed with ECU on Dec. 18, 2019. Throughout his high school career, he helped lead the Eagles to four straight Georgia Class A Private championships and ended with an overall record of 54-2, according to ECUPirates. As he played for the Eagles, he tallied 88 touchdowns and 4,347 yards.
Last season Mitchell shared the spotlight with fellow running back freshman Rahjai Harris. Throughout this season Mitchell has been the one to get yardage for the team. In all five games, Mitchell has started on the offensive side and has continued to play throughout. He has tallied up the most touchdowns of the team this season with five, which accounts for his 30 points.
“Those guys are a great duo and they’re helping put ECU back on the map,” junior quarterback Holton Ahlers said. “I mean anytime you can hand the ball off and they can go score is pretty easy for me. I mean I don’t got anything else to do, just watch Keaton go run.”
In the first game of the season versus Appalachian State University (4-1-0, 0-0-0 Sun Belt Conference), Mitchell opened up with his first career touchdown. He was able to get into the endzone after a 63-yard touchdown which also was the Pirates first score of the game. Also against App State, Mitchell had the fastest top speed among carriers with a 22.6 mph.
The season opener against the Mountaineers took place at the National Football League’s (NFL) Panthers Bank of America Stadium. Although the Pirates were not able to pull together a win in the end, Mitchell explained that he felt good about his personal performance at such a big stadium.
“I feel good. This is my first time playing in front of that many people. When I ran a pass I heard the oohs and the ahhs and I was just thinking, I guess I’m here,” Mitchell said.
He has been a part of 60 plays and has rushed for 574 yards already this season. Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Snead is in next place for all-purpose yardage but is still 203 yards below Mitchell. His rushing yard average is 114.8 per game. On top of his rushing yards, he also has 145 receiving yards.
In the game versus Tulane, Mitchell had his highest rushing performance of the season as he ended with 222 yards on 15 plays. With the way he played in his latest game, he put on the best running performance that ECU had seen since the 2007 season.
The last time the football program had seen a rushing performance like that was when ECU alumni running back Chris Johnson played in 2007. Johnson had a high of 301 rushing yards in a 2007 game. For his highest rushing play, he ended with a 70-yard run. So far, Mitchell’s high sits at an 88-yard rush versus Marshall University (2-3-0, 0-1-0 AAC) on Sept. 18.
Despite the team’s current winning record, the Pirates began the season 0-2 against the University of South Carolina (3-2-0, 0-2-0 Southeastern Conference) and App State. With that in mind, Mitchell has continued to improve and has continued to give the Pirates large drives throughout games. He does not let the losses get him down as he continues to strive for consistency.
“Last season it was pretty good but this season I feel that the team is more together, more of a brotherhood and we’re just trusting each other and getting out there,” Mitchell said. “I just gotta try and stay consistent, that’s my biggest thing.”
Mitchell and the rest of the Pirates will be back in action on Oct. 9 as they get back on the road. ECU will travel to Orlando, Florida, to play the University of Central Florida Knights (2-2-0, 0-1-0 AAC) in a 6 p.m. game. This game will be both teams' second conference game of the season. The game can be viewed on ESPN+ and will also be broadcasted on 107.9 WNCT-FM.