Gorman: West Mifflin star is his brother's hero
Diallo Mitchell couldn't believe it when he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal against Central Valley last season.
Mitchell was even more amazed by what his brother, DiAngelo, did on the final play, when he chased down star receiver Robert Foster and made a touchdown-saving shoestring tackle at the 5-yard line to force overtime.
“When he made the tackle, I ran towards him and hugged him so hard,” Diallo said, reminiscing about the moment. “That's the best play I ever witnessed my brother make — ever — as long as I've seen him play.”
What did Diallo tell him?
“That he loved me,” DiAngelo said, breaking into a wide smile. “We just hugged each other and said, ‘We did it!' That was our lifetime goal, just making it to Heinz Field.”
The bookend big plays by the Mitchell brothers that led West Mifflin to the WPIAL final last season are now a memory that never gets old to the tight-knit duo from Duquesne.
It's one they discuss daily while leaning on each other to overcome the latest tragedy the teenagers have endured.
Last July, just a month after graduating from West Mifflin, Diallo was shot in the lower back while sitting in a car in Greenfield. The bullet broke his lumbar spine and is lodged between his L1 and L2 vertebrae, stopping a millimeter short of his main artery.
“It's very tragic because Diallo was well-liked, and DiAngelo is well-liked, and they're really close brothers,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said “All the kids on the team really feel bad for Diallo and are rooting for him to have a full recovery. Watching DiAngelo really picks him up. He tries to play for Diallo and make this season for him.”
Diallo, who once outran an entire team, now watches games from a wheelchair. He undergoes physical therapy three times a week in hopes of walking again.
“It's a big life-changer,” Diallo said. “It's so hard to get used to walking all over again. It's really difficult. One day, you have everything. Then, in the blink of an eye, you lose it. It's just hard to get that back in your head that you actually can't walk anymore.”
Diallo gets his greatest inspiration from watching DiAngelo, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior who plays wide receiver and cornerback and is a kick- and punt-return specialist for the undefeated Titans.
“It gives me a thrill,” Diallo said. “I feel like I'm on the field with him.”
Those who say one play doesn't make or break a season haven't seen the Mitchell brothers' eyes light up when talking about DiAngelo's touchdown-saving tackle against Central Valley.
It was a shining example of an unbreakable will and a stubborn refusal to surrender, traits Diallo knows he needs in his rehabilitation.
DiAngelo was on the opposite side of the field from Foster, a four-star recruit who is now a freshman at Alabama. As Foster zigzagged through West Mifflin's defense, Mitchell pursued until he tracked him down with only seconds remaining in regulation. West Mifflin won 36-35 in overtime.
“I watched it from afar,” Diallo said. “I just couldn't believe that he made the tackle.”
But it made him a believer.
The Mitchell brothers have relied on each other and their mother, Sonya Chambers, since their father died in an auto accident in August 2006.
During the month Diallo spent at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, DiAngelo was a constant presence.
“It means the world to me,” Diallo said. “I don't think I would do as good as I am in therapy if it wasn't for my brother, God and my mother. My brother is always there. Always. He knows my pain and tries to get me through it.
“That's what I'm here right now for. I have to get up. I'm not going to let no one down. There's nothing right now in the world that I want more than to get up out of this chair.”
DiAngelo is just thankful his brother is alive. They count their blessings every day, praying for protection.
“My brother was always there for me,” DiAngelo said. “It's emotional sometimes, but you've just got to pull through it. He was a good player. Everything I do, I got from him. Everything.”
Now their roles are reversed. Everything Diallo does, he gets from DiAngelo, who has a greater appreciation of what it means to play every game as if it's his last.
And how to play the hero.