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Why Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon never had to look far to see how to persevere

Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon is thankful for his mother Notoshia Mitchell, left, sister Oneisha and niece Amia. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon is thankful for his mother Notoshia Mitchell, left, sister Oneisha and niece Amia. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

NORMAN — Trey Sermon has a very clear recollection of the day his mom brought home a computer.

He has an even clearer memory of what she did with it.

When the Oklahoma running back was in elementary school, his mom went back to college to work on her bachelor's degree. She could only go one day a week because of work and kids and life, but when the rest of her day was done, she always had all sorts of studying and writing to do.

She worked on that computer late into the night.

“That was kind of a big thing for me,” Sermon said, “just to see her handle multiple things and still take care of us, have a roof over our heads, just doing all that.”

Notoshia Mitchell was a walking, talking paradigm of perseverance.

On a day when we stop to give thanks, there is no one for whom Sermon is more grateful than his mom. She didn't teach him how to find a running lane or juke a defender, but she modeled toughness every single day.

And having gone from Rodney Anderson's backup to the Sooners' feature back to a guy with a bum ankle, Sermon is leaning on his mom's teachings.

“I know she's been through a lot,” he said. “I looked up to her as far as being strong mentally.”

While Sermon saw all that Mitchell did while he was growing up, it wasn't until he was in middle school that he learned the full extent of what she'd been through. She had an absent father and an abusive mother and was raised largely by her grandparents. She had a baby when she was 15, then had another soon after, but both children died as infants.

There were dark days.

Dark years, even.

But life began to stabilize in 2005. She found a house. She got a job with an insurance company. Even though she had two small children — daughter Oneisha and son Trey — Mitchell decided the time was right to start taking college classes.

“It was hard in the beginning,” she said via telephone from her home in Marietta, Georgia, “but I was determined that I wanted a college degree.”

She eventually earned a bachelor's.

Then a master's.

Today, even as she helps raise Oneisha's daughter, Mitchell is working on her doctorate in psychology.

“I want to be able to help women that are in battered relationships and families that have lost children,” she said. “I definitely want to open up a shelter one day and put together programs to help women.”

Her message is simple: single women are strong and capable.

She's proof of that.

Her son is ever mindful of what can be accomplished if you work. He has rushed for 1,595 yards in less than two seasons, a career total that ranks as the 37th best in OU history. He sits only a few hundred yards behind greats such as Clendon Thomas and David Overstreet while already passing the likes of Marcus Dupree and Prentice Gautt.

Sermon hasn't always had it easy, but still, he keeps after it. He's played through this current injury, for example, and there's a chance he plays again Friday at West Virginia.

“To watch him live out his dream,” his mom said, “is really amazing to me.”

Then again, he had a really amazing example.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›