Note: The following appears in the Florida State gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $7 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
When Mitch Hyatt was just getting into football, one of his first youth coaches told his mother that the young Hyatt was not cut out for football. That he was not aggressive enough. Not tough enough. That he shouldn’t bother signing him up for the next season.
Fast forward a decade or so, and Hyatt became the first Tiger first-year freshman to start his first game on the offensive line since the 1980s and the first first-year freshman to start an opener at offensive tackle since the 1940s.
“I thought that was funny,” explained the 6’5”, 305-pound Tiger from Suwanee, Ga.
Self-described as “super shy and bashful,” he was reluctant to begin playing his family’s signature sport when he was younger, and when he was finally ready, he got his career underway with a bang.
“I was definitely not a mean person at all, but I remember we put on pads for the first time, and we were practicing wrapping each other up. I barely touched one of my friends, and he fell over and broke his arm. That was the first time I ever put pads on.”
Not exactly an ideal start, but Hyatt stuck with it.
The nephew of Dan Benish, an All-ACC defensive tackle and starter on Clemson’s 1981 national title team, Hyatt talked about football being “a big part of what brings our family together.”
Benish and Hyatt’s two other uncles really got the offensive tackle invested in the game, helping to build the “bashful” Hyatt into the force on the offensive line that he is today.
“My uncle started coaching me in youth football as the defensive coordinator when I was in fifth grade. I was not a tough or aggressive kid, but he made sure I was tough and aggressive.
“If I wasn’t playing hard, he was in my face. It wasn’t a bad thing, because it was in my best interest. But I would be out on the field, in tears, and he would bring me off and get in my face, throw me back in and I would make an amazing play. That got me going in the right direction and helped me learn to be more aggressive.”
Once the time came for him to choose a college where he could continue his career, it was a natural decision to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a Tiger, and though he obviously had no way of knowing it at the time, a national champion Tiger.
“It came down between Ohio State and Clemson, and I had grown up being a fan of Clemson. I’ve always loved the school. When I came for my first football visit, I didn’t really know what to expect from the football side. But when I came and met coach (Dabo) Swinney and all of the other coaches, I fell in love with it.
“I love how real everyone is and the atmosphere...how everyone’s a family. All the guys on the team came up and talked to me, and I’m very bashful and not very talkative. But from that, I saw the culture and knew this was where I wanted to go. I really believed what they had here was special, and I believed that coming here, I could help be a part of that.”
And he has been a big part. Entering his junior season in 2017, since getting the start in that first game in 2015, Hyatt totaled 69.5 knockdown blocks in 2,043 snaps. During his freshman season, he garnered ACC Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week honors after playing every snap against Florida State, and in doing so, he became Clemson’s first first-year freshman to earn that weekly accolade.
Hyatt also played his way to All-ACC honors in both of his first two years, and he hopes the way he has played the game is something that his teammates will remember him for. In 2016, he became he first Clemson offensive lineman in history to be a First-Team All-ACC selection as a sophomore.
“I want people to remember me as someone who they can look up to. I’ve never been a vocal leader, and I’m more of a ‘lead by example’ guy. But when I leave, I want to be respected for what I did when I was here and have people look up to me and how I did things. I hope I set a standard.”
And he is grateful for the part that the Clemson family has played along the way.
“I want to tell the Clemson family that I appreciate everyone and all the support that everyone has given, especially to the football team. Every game...we really are a family. You hear that from everyone, and it’s really hard to explain unless you’re here and you understand.
“You come here, and everyone talks to you and is nice to you. You can go and meet someone and be their best friend...that’s how easy it is here. The past two years have been great, and I appreciate them for that. Being in this kind of atmosphere has made it a lot better.
“My Clemson experience has been an unbelievable ride. It’s hard to believe that I’m already a junior and this season is almost over. I like to look back at all the people I’ve met, what the team has accomplished and what I’ve been able to be a part of.”
So much for not being cut out for football.