By Debbie Adams
What might “best day ever” look like for an 11-year-old rec league basketball player in Vinton?
Maybe having two star Virginia Tech football players– tight End James Mitchell and quarterback Quincy Patterson– drive from Blacksburg on a Saturday evening to watch you play.
That’s what happened to Nicholas Toney. The Toney family, including parents Martha and Sam, are avid Virginia Tech fans.
“After the UNC game on October 19, Nicholas and I went over to the West stands where the players’ families sit and where you can meet the players,” Martha Toney said. “Nicholas met James Mitchell, and they just seemed to hit it off. Nicholas walked with James through the historic tunnel from the stadium over to the athletic facilities. After that, Nicholas and James would meet up after each game and do the tunnel walk. They exchanged numbers so that they could stay in touch.”
The Toneys invited Mitchell to the February 1 rec league game at William Byrd Middle School between Nicholas’s team– the Vinton Cavs– and the North Roanoke Hurricanes. Mitchell brought along Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson.
The players not only enthusiastically watched the game (which the Cavs handily won), they hung around afterwards to talk with and take a photo with every single child, parent, or coach who asked.
Patterson topped off the excitement for Nicholas by spending a half hour or so passing footballs afterwards in the parking lot. “Nicholas would have stayed all night,” said his mom.
James Mitchell is from Big Stone Gap, near the Kentucky border, where he was a standout athlete in three sports– football, basketball and track. His mother, Marcia, played basketball at Brown University. His father, Pastor Jimmy Mitchell, was also an outstanding athlete in football and basketball at Powell Valley High School.
In 2017, James Mitchell was named VHSL 2A Offensive Player of the Year and helped guide Union to a trip to the 2A semifinals. Playing for Head Coach Travis Turner, Mitchell was a four-time all-state tight end and a USA Today All Virginia First-Team selection. He racked up 756 receiving yards on 42 catches and nine touchdowns in his high school career. In addition, he was a two-time, first-team all-conference pick as a basketball player.
Moreover, he is remembered by his high school coaches and Big Stone Gap as a stellar student (with a 4.1 GPA) who was also kind and of great character– a true student athlete. He was one of the most popular players the high school had ever had, staying long after games to greet crowds of admirers.
Mitchell was highly recruited and received more than a dozen scholarship offers from colleges including Duke, Clemson, Miami, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Virginia Tech offered for him in his sophomore year of high school.
Mitchell played in all 13 games in his first year at VT in 2018, primarily on special teams. In 2019, he had a breakout season, finding the end zone five times.
He was chosen by Coach Justin Fuentes to wear Frank Beamer’s No. 25 jersey in the final home game of 2019 against Pitt. He is majoring in communication studies at Virginia Tech.
Quarterback Quincy Patterson is from Chicago where he was also a premier player, earning an invitation to participate in Elite 11, the nation’s most prestigious quarterback competition. He won the 2018 Watkins Award, given to the nation’s top African American high school senior male athlete. He made the Presidential honor roll all four years and was selected to play in the 2018 Blue-Grey All-American Bowl and International Bowl IX. In his 2019 season at Tech, Patterson played in seven games, starting against Notre Dame. He led the Hokies to a victory over UNC in a game with six overtimes. He is majoring in business at VT.
“James is such a humble person, and we are so honored that he wanted to come see Nicholas play a rec basketball game,” said Martha Toney. “I can’t think of too many college football players who would want to take the time from their busy schedule to do that, especially since he and Nicholas just met recently.”
“I can’t think of a nicer person, both on and off the field,” Toney said. “For Nicholas to look up to James as a role model and mentor is so heartwarming to me. Nicholas says that he wants to play football and be a tight end at VT, just like Mitchell.”
Nicholas’s basketball team is the Vinton Cavs coached by Coy Carter, Gary Wheeler and Dick Foster, one of six 10U boys’ basketball teams in Vinton.
The team is undefeated with three games left in the season and a tournament to follow. Toney says “the coaches have done an awesome job of getting the kids ready. The practices focus on the fundamentals and Coach Coy leaves no stone unturned.”
Nicholas is also a three-sport athlete, playing soccer, basketball, and baseball. He was diagnosed at age two with Type 1 Diabetes, but that has never slowed him down. His mother says the key is “management of the disease which is a daily science experiment; what you do one day won’t be the same the next day.”
In baseball, Nicholas plays with the Vinton AAA All-Stars, a post-season team selected by coaches and finalized by Coach Coy Carter. This past summer, Vinton won the Dixie League District 7 baseball championship, which encompasses Craig County, Salem, Glenvar, and Franklin County.
The team, in essence, played another season with as many practices and games as the regular season, condensed into five or six weeks. Vinton’s win came down to the last out of the game, involving a triple play. From winning the District tournament, the boys went on to the state tournament.
That win will undoubtedly remain in Nicholas’s memory for a long time, but perhaps not as long as the memory of James Mitchell and Quincy Patterson stopping by his rec league game one Saturday night. What great young men, mentors, and role models!