Nov. 12, 2016

by Spencer Haynes

In times of need, a go-to person is able to help someone get through the trials and tribulations of life. For Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell, his mother, Dyshell Gardner, is that person.

“I don’t know if everyone knows, but I’m a big-time mama’s boy,” Mizzell said. “Literally, we don’t miss a day of talking. She probably calls me six times a day, just texting me too. She’s invested in what I’m doing.

“When it comes to personal things, when it comes to keeping me going, it’s my mom that is someone I feel like I can trust.”

The strength of their relationship has been cemented through the times they have shared together. Tiny moments over the years between the two have become some of Mizzell’s most cherished.

“Besides her coming to see me play, there are just simple things [I like],” Mizzell said. “Going out to eat, going to the movies, it’s the simple things that matter.”

Playing football is one way Mizzell believes he can give back to his mother.

“She [Gardner} has been through some tough times, but I know when she watches me plays, she always smiles,” he said.

It is his mom’s toughness that Mizzell admires most.

“Honestly, just being tough and being able to keep going,” he said. “She’s one of the toughest people I know. I’ve never seen much defeat her. If she wants something, she’s going to go get it. She’s going to make it happen, period.”

That grit is a trait Mizzell strives to emulate and bring to the football field.

“There might be times that I’m questioning myself, or questioning whether I’ll finish something through, and I’ll think about my mom,“ Mizzell said. “Then I’ll just keep going.”

Another way he demonstrates toughness is in his role as an underdog.

“I’ve got a lot of fight,” Mizzell said. “My mentality is stronger than I give myself credit for. Once I got to high school and college, I’ve always thought of myself as an underdog.”

“Whether it was all that attention I was getting from high school, the number one all-purpose [running] back, five-star [recruit], or whatever, all that stuff was earned,” Mizzell stated. “It didn’t start there.”

Mizzell explains that he had to work his way just to get onto recruiting boards.

“I started way outside the 150,” Mizzell said, referring to the top 150 high school players in the nation.

“I earned my way into the 150,” Mizzell continued. “Then I earned my way into the 100, then I worked my way down to the 80, then I worked my way down to the number one all-purpose back.”

He took that mentality with him to Charlottesville.

“Now looking at the college backs, and going to the NFL, I definitely feel like I’m an underdog, and I have a lot to prove,” Mizzell said. “But I like it. It feels good to prove somebody wrong.”

Mizzell attributes his underdog status to a couple of factors.

“Sometimes I think it’s my size, “ Mizzell said. “Sometimes it’s just the situation that I’m in. Unfortunately, we haven’t had many winning seasons here, so when I look at going from college to the NFL, I might not get the same type of attention.”

Still, Mizzell remains confident in his future.

“In the NFL if you’re good, they’re going to find you,” he said. “That’s why there’s a lot of people from UVA that are still playing NFL football.”

When he is done playing football, Mizzell sees himself staying active with the game that has given much to him.

“I still want to be around the game,” he said. “I definitely would look into coaching on the college level. If not coaching, I would want to train athletes.

“There’s something about training that seems fun. I would like to train to help people out, and give them any information that I [have].

“When you are really invested into the game and into a person you are working with, you’re helping that person the best way you can, and you’re giving them the knowledge that you have. Then to see great things happen to them, because of your help, that’s one of the best feelings.”

There is uncertainty surrounding Mizzell’s future, but he has people in his corner supporting him, like his mom. While he has already started preparing for life after football by thinking about his future as a coach or trainer, his goal of playing in the NFL continues to drive him.

Through every stage in Mizzell’s life, one thing has remained certain: “Smoke” is on the rise.