If you want to get J.T. Mitchell fired up, just try telling him he can’t do something.
When the Cary-Grove senior had surgery to remove a tumor from inside his nasal cavity Nov. 11, the plan was that Mitchell would remain in the hospital until Tuesday. He went home Saturday night.
Doctors told Mitchell after his surgery he might not be able to lift heavy weights again. He began lifting again last month and is tossing around more weight than he had before the surgery.
They also told Mitchell he might not wrestle again, but the Trojans’ 170-pounder wasn’t having any of that either. He will make a remarkable comeback to the mat when C-G plays host to Prairie Ridge at 6:30 p.m. today in a Fox Valley Conference Valley Division match.
“When someone tells me I’m not going to be able to do it, it makes me want to do it that much more,” Mitchell said. “It’s like, ‘In your face.’ It’s been a [heck] of a ride.”
No question there.
Mitchell began experiencing breathing problems last March, but initially thought it was a cold. Eventually, his doctor thought it was allergies and prescribed nasal sprays, although the constant usage of those induced nosebleeds. One day, his nose bled for 21⁄2 hours.
By the fall, he stopped using the nasal sprays, but he also had trouble sleeping. He could not taste food. His tongue felt like sandpaper.
Mitchell visited an ear, nose and throat specialist, who performed a CT scan. He was supposed to get the results the next week, but got a call the next day. His mother, Kristine, tried not to panic and told J.T. they needed to go back to the doctor.
“We got there and I heard the word ‘tumor’ and my heart just sank,” J.T. said. “They started talking about how rare it is and it really got me nervous.”
The tumor was termed angiofibroma, an aggressive tumor that grows in the back of the nasal cavity. The tumor had wrapped around Mitchell’s main facial nerve and into his left eye socket. Within two weeks, Mitchell was back at Loyola University Medical Center for eight hours of surgery.
“He’s my best friend. He’s my lifting partner,” C-G heavyweight Jeremy Dermont said. “When I got the phone call that he had a tumor, it tore me apart. It tore the team apart.”
Mitchell, who used to play football, also learned it was fortunate he only planned on wrestling during his senior year.
“They said if I’d played football and taken one blow to the head, I could have bled out and died,” he said. “Count your blessings. Wow, … thank God!”
There still were plenty of questions after Mitchell’s surgery, but having so many people supporting Mitchell was vital for him and his family.
“Coach (Ryan) Ludwig kept in touch constantly,” said Kristine Mitchell. “He told [J.T.] he would be a part of the team, no matter what. He called and texted while he was in Intensive Care. We’re so fortunate to have such a great support system.”
The wrestlers came to Loyola the day before surgery and made fun of the dots on Mitchell’s face that were there for a sort of road map for the doctor the next day. Ludwig said all the coaches had personal moments with Mitchell after his surgery.
“It’s hard as a high school coach when one of your kids is going through something tough,” Ludwig said. “Not only are they not going to compete, but you don’t know what’s going to happen with their life.”
Later, the news came that the tumor, which was working its way toward Mitchell’s brain, was benign. Then, the Mitchells found something to be thankful for the day before Thanksgiving, when J.T. learned he could start his cardio workouts the next Monday and start lifting in three weeks.
Working out had never hurt so good.
The doctor targeted Jan. 1 as a comeback date for Mitchell to get back on the mat for practice. Mitchell likely will get a forfeit win today because Prairie Ridge has no regular at 170; his bigger day will come Saturday when C-G hosts a quadrangular meet and he will compete his first matches as a senior.
Mitchell will wear a circular plastic mask to protect his nose. Ludwig said if Mitchell gets a nosebleed, he immediately will be taken to the emergency room.
The mask has earned Mitchell a cool new nickname. His teammates call him “Bane” with the mask on because he resembles the masked villain from “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“You look at him, he’s a specimen, he’s in great shape,” Ludwig said. “He has his moments where he has that Bane anger.”
Dermont says he thinks Mitchell can use the mask to his advantage.
“He’s so cut and he looks like an animal [with the mask],” Dermont said. “It makes him look more intimidating.”
J.T. Mitchell could have died had he taken a blow to the head in football. He could have gone deaf or blind after surgery. His face could have “drooped” after surgery. He could have not been able to wrestle or lift heavy weights again.
Instead, Mitchell’s back on the mat where he belongs.
As he said, “It’s been a [heck] of a ride.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.