As a young boy growing up between his hometown of Brunswick, Georgia and Fort Valley, Georgia where his dad is currently the superintendent of Peach County schools, early enrollee freshman Mitchell Fineran knew he wanted to be a kicker.
“I just tried it out in the backyard, just messing around,” Fineran said. “I just started kicking around. I wasn’t very good at first, but I just kept with it. Eventually, I got better and found it to be really fun.”
Mitchell was born in Brunswick, but lived and went to high school in Fort Valley, Georgia, playing his high school football career at Peach County High School. In his time as a Trojan, he went 32-51 on his field goal attempts, with four makes of 50+ yards, including a school-record 54 yard make. He also went 193-205 on his PAT attempts during his career. He was named All-State his senior year, and ranked second in the nation in kickoff yardage according to MaxPreps.
Mitchell arrived on Samford’s campus in January ready to begin his career as a Bulldog. Enrolling early had always been a plan for Mitchell, and he was intrigued when he received his offer from Samford this past December. After realizing that he had completed all the necessary classes and requirements to graduate, he decided that Samford was the place for him.
“I had a bunch of offers to be a preferred walk-on, and then Mercer and Samford both offered me a scholarship,” Fineran said. “I had known Coach Hatcher before he started recruiting me. I was just ready to get it over with and know where I was going, and Samford was going to let me come early. I kind of just planned it out a long time ago that if I could, I would graduate early and get a head start.”
Now enrolled as a freshman Sports Administration major at Samford, Mitchell is getting used to life as a college student.
“It was a big adjustment coming from high school,” Mitchell said. “College is a lot different, having to balance school, sports, and working out. It took a little bit of getting used to, but I’m getting into a groove now.”
He did admit that at first, the transition was a bit difficult, especially starting mid-year.
“It was a little hard at first because I didn’t come in with another group of people for football, but everyone has been really nice and everything,” Mitchell said. “I definitely get along with everyone here really well. It hasn’t been bad at all.”
Mitchell’s high school team, the Peach County Trojans, has been quite successful in recent years, making numerous deep playoff runs and has consistently been a tough team to beat in Georgia’s 3A classification.
“Our stadium wasn’t huge, but it was a cool atmosphere,” Fineran said. “When we played big teams like Houston County (when current University of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was there), the stadium was definitely full for those games.”
Peach County has produced some great football players over the years, including many collegiate players as well as several that went on to play in the NFL. Mitchell definitely sees the idea of playing professionally as something that could potentially be in his future.
“I hope to. I’m definitely going to try my best to do well here,” he said. “Hopefully wherever it falls, I’ll get a chance to make it to that level. That’s my goal. Getting a degree is also important and something I need to do as well.”
During his senior season, Mitchell helped lead his team to a 13-2 record and a trip to the state championship game, which was played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. He talked about his experience from playing in that game.
“It was pretty cool. I had never played on that big of a stage before,” Fineran said. “I kicked a 50 yard field goal in the game. That is always your goal in high school football. Playing in that game was something that most people don’t get to do, so that was pretty awesome.”
Unfortunately, his team ended up losing the game to the Calhoun Yellow Jackets by a score of 10-6. An extremely controversial call late in the fourth quarter called back a touchdown catch that would have given Peach County the lead, and was ultimately a big factor in the loss. To this day, many people around the state of Georgia remember that play.
“Everyone was in shock. We thought we had it. I guess one person messed it up, but sometimes it just happens,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell went 13-19 on field goal attempts during his senior season at Peach County, as well as 80-81 on PATs. He kicked a career long and school-record 54 yard field goal during his senior season, as well as the 50 yard field goal in the state championship game. When asked which field goal during his high school career was his most memorable, he quickly had the answer.
“I’d have to say probably the 50 yarder in the state championship game because it was my last high school game and it just meant a lot.”
During his high school career, Mitchell attended numerous kicking camps around the country where he competed against some of the best high school specialists in the nation. He talked about how they were extremely beneficial in his development as a kicker.
“I went to camps all around the country, including camps in Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, and Mississippi. Most were in the southeast,” Mitchell said. “They were a great national stage, and I got to showcase my skills which helped a lot.”
He also gave credit to his kicking coach for helping him throughout his career.
“My kicking coach Mike Hollis played in the NFL for 9 years, so he definitely helped me out a lot,” he said.
When asked about the toughest part of kicking as a whole, Mitchell alluded to the mental aspect as playing a large part in the kicking process.
“I think for the mental aspect, sometimes you have to simplify it,” he said. “It isn’t really a hard task, but it’s like a golf swing. You have to maintain it. Sometimes if you let your head get involved, it can mess you up.”
Football was not always easy for Mitchell, as he did not decide to be a kicker until he was in the 7th grade. He started playing football in 5th grade, but never really enjoyed it until he started kicking. He used a piece of advice he had received to push him along,
“Just not to give up and to keep going. Sometimes things can get tough. You might not get picked up or things might not go your way. You just have to keep pushing,” he said.”
So far, Mitchell loves everything about Samford and is adjusting to his new home quite well. He likes the size of the school and how everyone has been so friendly.
“I like how the school is small, so you can get to know everyone real easily,” he said. “I like the town and the school as a whole. The atmosphere and the people are both really great.”
Off the football field, Mitchell played soccer, baseball, and basketball growing up. He also likes hanging out with friends and fishing.
“I played soccer, basketball, and baseball. I kinda tried it all I guess,” he said. “Since I’m from the St. Simons area, I go saltwater fishing a good bit which is fun.”
Samford plans to use Mitchell primarily as a kicker, but he is open to doing whatever is asked of him. He is excited to begin his career at the collegiate level next season.
“Playing at the college level has always been a goal of mine. I’m just excited to see what it’s all about.”
Collin Reese, Sports Writer