PORT ALLEN — During his opening remarks Monday afternoon after being introduced as Port Allen’s new football coach, Nick Mitchell tried connecting with some of the student body assembled in the school’s gym for the event.

Mitchell spoke of the some of the long odds he defied at a similar stage in his life, hitting home with a chilling statistic that four of best friends had been murdered by the time he was 16 years old.

Yet, that didn’t deter Mitchell from excelling and graduating from both Destrehan and Southern University, and later embarking on a high school coaching career that now includes Port Allen after his hiring was made official.

“God gave me an opportunity to be the best that I could be despite those odds,” Mitchell said. “He gave me the optimism, he gave me the courage and wisdom to do that right thing.”

Port Allen Principal James Jackson said there were a total of 18 applicants for the position, which became open last month when Guy Blanchard resigned after 10 seasons. He guided the Pelicans to a 55-48 record and seven state playoff appearances, including last season.

Jackson said that Mitchell and Central coach Sid Edwards were frontrunners for the position with former Tara and Walker coach Mike Todd and General Trass coach Dwight Woods also reportedly drawing strong consideration.

“There were certain things we were looking for in a candidate,” Jackson said. “We wanted someone who we felt could not only take our program to the next level in football but who also would help our school go that next level academically, too.”

Mitchell spent a total of eight years as an assistant at both East Ascension and East St. John before getting the chance to become a head coach for the first time at Southern Lab.

Despite a rigorous regular-season schedule, Mitchell guided Southern Lab to a 31-23 overall record and led the Kittens to improved playoff finishes in his last three seasons, including the Division IV state championship game in 2014.

It’s that final game, a 52-6 loss to Ouachita Christian, which served as a driving force for Mitchell to become a head coach once again after resigning from the school in January.

“I don’t think any coach who is a competitor wants to see that last game,” Mitchell said. “I’m thankful we got a chance to play in it but I’ve never got a chance to watch it. I’m looking forward to another opportunity here to try and do that at Port Allen.”

In the interim, Mitchell joined the staff of coach Alden Foster at East St. John, where he was to serve as associate head coach/wide receivers coach.

He couldn’t be happier than to become a head coach again and lead a community-based school in one of the state’s most competitive Class 3A districts that includes Division II state champion University High and runners-up Parkview Baptist.

“We’ve got to be prepared to have a program to face those caliber teams every week,” Mitchell said. “There’s no pushovers in our district. It’s going to take a process to get the young men there. In my opinion, it’s one of the most competitive 3A districts in the state. We’ve got to get them ready.”

Mitchell was thankful for his four-year stay at Southern Lab and appreciative the school believed in him enough to provide his launching pad into head coaching.

He said his first official day on the job is Tuesday, and he’ll continue work on assembling a staff and preparing for the start of spring practice once track season is completed.

“I didn’t want to take any time off,” Mitchell said. “I was hoping and praying I could become a head coach really soon, and God rewarded me with another opportunity.”