Long before he became a television and radio personality, before he set seven National Football League records that still stand, before he was a three-time All-Pro, before he helped Washington win Super Bowl XXVI, before he was drafted into the league, before he set records in the NCAA — even before he entered the hallowed halls of the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette — Brian Mitchell was a kid at the family dinner table.
And on that table every day were homecooked meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
He credits family time, good nutrition and healthy choices for his many successes, and Mr. Mitchell now promotes just such a lifestyle through his participation in “Fuel Up to Play 60,” a program launched in2009 by the National Dairy Council and the NFL in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With the involvement of companies such as Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, WA, Fuel Up to Play 60 provides curricula and activities designed to improve nutrition and increase physical activity at and away from school.
According to FUTP 60, “The ultimate goal is to ensure changes made at school are sustainable, making it possible for children to have more opportunities to be physically active and choose tasty, nutrient-rich foods throughout the school environment.”
Today nearly 40 million young students at more than 70,000 schools nationwide take part in FUTP 60, and that makes Brian Mitchell a happy spokesman — and a happy dad.
All 32 NFL clubs are involved with FUTP 60. Also backing the program are Action for Healthy Kids, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association and School Nutrition Association, as well as major corporations. Contributions go to the GENYOUth Foundation, which funds FUTP 60 in the participating schools.
The program’s design enables youth and schools to determine which tools and resources best help meet each school’s wellness goals and features easy enrollment, and step-by-step guidance for adults and students.
Key program elements include Free Fuel Up to Play 60 Quick Start Resources, which include in-school collateral materials and planning tools to help implement the program.
Interactive online Playbook includes easy-to-do healthy eating and physical activity “Plays” — a collection of strategies that help students “fuel up” with nutrient-rich foods and “get up and play” for at least 60 minutes a day.
Fuel Up to Play 60 Challenges are provided throughout the school year to keep youth excited and engaged in the program. They are designed to supplement and reinforce the plays in a creative and competitive manner.
FuelUpToPlay60.com provides program resources and serves as an online portal to share successes and learn from other participants. The website also includes a searchable database of Playbook Plays, detailed information on Fuel Up to Play 60 Challenges, a personal Dashboard area for students and adults and opportunities for incentives and rewards.
And, importantly, parents have also signed on, including the NFL star.
“I have four kids,” Mr. Mitchell said.
At ages 10, 12, 18 and 23, the Mitchell offspring follow in their father’s nutrition-conscious footsteps, just as he followed in those of his parents.
“I’ve imitated what my dad, who was in the military and later a professional chef, did,” he said. “When I was a child, I ate a healthy diet, not junk. My parents both cooked, and we had meals at home, and they always included fruit and vegetables.”
He added, “They didn’t give me a choice. My father always made sure we ate some of what was prepared for us, and I have done the same.”
Laughing, he said, “My parents didn’t give me a choice, and I don’t give my kids a choice.”
His parents also saw to it that the young Brian Mitchell worked hard at his studies, got a good education and was accepted to a college.
The results are undeniable.
At the University of Southern Louisiana, which is now University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Mr. Mitchell played quarterback all four seasons. He became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career, and he also set the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
His pro career started in 1990 when he was drafted by Washington. He also played for the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants and was inducted into Washington's Ring of Fame in 2009.
In his second season, he led the NFL in punt return yards and touchdowns and, as a running back and return specialist, was part of Washington’s winning effort in Super Bowl XXVI. Mr. Mitchell was named All-Pro in 1991, 1994 and 1995 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995 as a returner. He still holds seven NFL records, including kickoff return yards of 14,012 and punt return yards of 4,999.
For FUTP 60, the athlete, who hosts radio and TV sports programs, has made three personal appearances, including two “Let’s Move” events.
“My own kids are very active,” he said, noting his three daughters are in dance and competitive cheerleading, and his son is a college athlete.
“I always compare fitness to cars,” he said of his personal teaching techniques. “If you don’t take care of a car, change its oil, it begins to get sluggish. If you don’t eat proper foods but fill up on cookies and chips, you begin to get sluggish, too.”
He is also is an advocate of recess at school, which is in step with FUTP 60, and he cited the connection with good nutrition and physical activity to academic performance.
“When I was a kid, we played dodgeball and tackle football at recess. And we learned what to do and not to do. I was also told to get a good breakfast as a kid, and I believe in that. If kids are not fed properly or if they’re not getting enough exercise, we can’t expect them to be great students,” he said.
“Fuel Up to Play 60 is a great thing,” he said, adding that activity is a good “addiction.”
“If kids will do one hour a day, they’re going to want to do more,” he said. “I tell my young fans that school is more important than football. You can’t major in football. You have to be a great student, and you have to eat right to be a great student. Grab a healthy snack instead of something crazy, because if you do well in school, you’ll be successful as an adult.”
Mr. Mitchell concluded, “And I tell parents to sit down and talk to their kids. I tell them to eat their meals together. I tell them life is about habits, both good and bad.”