A Camera and a Dream: The Mitchell Pehlke Story

By the time Alabama hoisted the College Football National Championship trophy, Mitchell Pehlke was fast asleep. The Ohio State sophomore attackman didn’t give up on his Buckeyes, who fell 54-23 to the Crimson Tide. But staying up past 10 on a weeknight would have strayed from his exacting routine. 

“I’m really strict with my sleep schedule,” Pehlke said. 

That discipline extends to all areas of his life. Pehlke plots out his weeks with Marie Kondo-like precision because in addition to being a Division I lacrosse player, he’s also building the Mitchell Pehlke brand. 

Pehlke’s passion for content creation first took shape, publicly, in the form of an eponymous YouTube channel he created his freshman year of high school, which he’s steadily grown to more than 13,000 subscribers. He launched a podcast last May called “Pelk Talk.” He’s posted daily on TikTok since October and is on all the social media platforms your parents probably joined a couple years ago, too. 

“He’s got a really strong burning desire to better himself, whether that’s on the lacrosse field, in the classroom or this online presence that he’s developing,” Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. “He’s someone who’s very serious about his work, and he’s made some sacrifices that maybe others haven’t at his age in order to be able to balance all of these things.” 

“There's one key to how I balance my YouTube channel, playing Division I men's lacrosse, a podcast and my merch,” Pehlke, 20, said in a TikTok he posted Nov. 6. “You ready?”

An image of a Google Calendar then appeared onscreen. 

Pehlke’s calendar on the afternoon of Jan. 12 included the Buckeyes’ first practice of 2021. Before and after, he found time to edit his latest YouTube video (most of which take at least eight hours to produce), publish episode No. 24 of his podcast and several TikToks of snippets from the interview for this article. He also had a haircut appointment at 4:45. 

“It looks terrible right now because we were running outside,” Pehlke said, sitting at the desk in his dorm room while running his hands through his hair, which resembles equal parts pompadour, faux hawk and mullet. It’s known as the Pehlke Special. 

The style stems from one of his first YouTube videos published in the spring of 2016. At first, Pehlke was on the other side of the clippers and gave his friend, Evan “Buck” Buckley a haircut. “Now trade give him a haircut!!!” a commenter with the handle “buzz mcbuzzed” wrote.

“We did but forgot to press record,” Pehlke replied. He actually lost the SD card but found it two months later. 

“In this YouTube game, you gotta be truthful to yourself and your fans. The way I act on camera is the way I’m going to act if you meet me in real life.” — Mitchell Pehlke

Pehlke now looks more comfortable in front of a camera than most people do in their bathroom mirror. That was not always the case. In an Inside Lacrosse interview from August 2015 after Pehlke was named MVP of the 2018/19 Uncommitted Showcase, his demeanor was, in a word, reserved. 

The shyness in front of the camera strayed from the person those close to Pehlke, who wore a leopard patterned suit to his junior prom, knew and now shines through in his videos. 

“In this YouTube game, you gotta be truthful to yourself and your fans,” Pehlke said. “The way I act on camera is the way I’m going to act if you meet me in real life.” 

“He is one of the most charismatic — that’s probably the best word to use — outgoing, positive people I have ever been around,” Riverside (Va.) lacrosse coach Nick Worek said. Pehlke offered an immediate energy boost every day at practice. He also seemed to play his best during the biggest games, like when he scored a hat trick to help lift Riverside to the Virginia VHSL 4A state championship in 2019. 

A couple months before that, Pehlke traveled from Virginia to New York in February to help break down the top five fall-ball goals on The Lacrosse Network’s YouTube channel. 

“It was one of the most fun days I had shooting with someone,” said RJ Kaminiski, who hosted the show and is now the manager of content for the Premier Lacrosse League. “This guy just oozes personality and authenticity.”

Pehlke came recommended by Katie DeFeo, a well-established YouTuber whose channel took off after she started creating content while on the USC women’s lacrosse team. The two met at the Committed Combine in July 2018. After Pehlke asked DeFeo to take a picture with him and a friend on the track at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, he rushed back to his bag. He then handed DeFeo a business card. It was adorned with two selfies of Pehlke’s face on the front. 

“I still got one right here,” Pehlke said, back in his dorm room. “I pass them out like every time I go out.”

Pehlke picked up the personal promotion technique from his dad, Kevin, a four-time All-American at Virginia, who now owns Potomac Printing Solutions. Pehlke’s mom, Jolynn, is also a business owner, having founded Advantex Consulting. Pehlke’s first summer job in high school was with an events company. He quit after two days. 

“I’m never doing this again,” he said. “I will do something that I love.” 

“Mitchell definitely takes after us,” Jolynn Pehlke said. “He likes being in control of his destiny and steering the ship.”

While Mitchell Pehlke played lacrosse since he could walk, he estimated he’s watched only about four full lacrosse games in his entire life. 

“I’m probably the antsiest kid you’ll ever meet,” he said. 

TV or movies didn’t capture his attention, either. YouTube did. Pehlke would spend hours watching the likes of Casey Neistat and experienced the same thrill as when he would rifle through his mom’s old VHS tapes and convert them to MP4s. 

The kid who decorated the bedroom wall with more than 400 pictures of family and friends now has a nostalgia trip at his fingertips. Though Jolynn Pehlke now considers herself her youngest son’s biggest fan, she was less amused at his infatuation with YouTube back then. 

“Why are you watching these people all day?” she would ask him. “Your life is so much more interesting.” 

Jolynn Pehlke trailed her son with her iPhone around the Apple Store and Starbucks at the Reston Town Center one day to show him how easy it would be to start. Even after she bought him a camera and MacBook for Christmas, Pehlke waited months before he posted his first video. He had to steel himself against the fear that most creatives have. 

“What will people think?” 

“Who cares?” he eventually convinced himself. “It’s either they’re jealous or they don’t like you, and who cares about those two?” 

When Pehlke walked into Riverside the day after he posted “Pehlke and Buck Barber,” his initial hesitations evaporated. He recalled seeing classmates watch the video in the hallways or on the projector during study hall. Their reactions became his driving force. 

“I really want to put a smile on someone’s face,” Pehlke said. 

Nothing tops when he receives a DM from someone in Wyoming or Texas who says his videos made their day. He called it the best feeling ever. 

Pehlke felt a similar seesaw of emotions while filming his first video with the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team during their trip to Portugal in 2019. He went in not knowing all of his teammates’ names but now likes to say he has 50 brothers. 

“His videos make you laugh,” Myers said. “They're funny. I think we could all use a little bit more of that these days.” 


The carefree, off-the-cuff feel that Pehlke’s videos capture to some degree obscures the amount of work that’s required when no one’s watching. He spent so many hours at the desk in the office at his mom’s house during quarantine that she bought him an electric standing version for his birthday. 

“It's like working three jobs while in college to maintain a presence online and a regular YouTube uploading schedule,” Kaminski said. 

Whether in lacrosse or on social media, Pehlke understands consistency is key. When Worek drove by the field at Riverside after the season was canceled, it was rarer when he didn’t see Pehlke doing a conditioning workout or shooting on his Rage Cage and its net with holes the size of car tires. 

“I’m at this level of lacrosse because I picked up the stick every day,” Pehlke said. “If I want to be great at YouTube, I’ve got to pick up the camera every day. I’ve got to edit something every day. I’ve got to think of some new ideas.” 

Pehlke factors into his schedule the three days it usually takes Ohio State’s compliance office to review his videos before he can publish them. Jolynn Pehlke also offers a second set of eyes. 

“You have to be extremely sensitive to every little thing you put up now,” she said. 

“We’re not here to say, ‘No’,” Pehlke’s compliance contact at Ohio State told him the first day he arrived on campus. “We’re just following the rules.” 

The process is necessary given the myriad regulations that prohibit student-athletes from making money off their name, image and likeness. That might change soon. The NCAA was expected to enact measures earlier this month that would allow athletes to profit off their NIL by the fall of 2020. The Division I Council, however, delayed the vote last week.  

“He can’t get paid right now, but I keep telling him all this hard work will pay off one day, and I want him to continue to do what makes him happy no matter what,” Jolynn Pehlke said. 

At a moment when influence is so easily quantified, Pehlke has yet to “hit it” and reach the lofty numbers that DeFeo or Villanova junior attackman Stelios Kroudis have received on some of their videos. Pehlke told DeFeo on her podcast that one of the worst compliments he gets is some variation of, “Your content’s so good. Why do you only have like 12,000 subscribers?”

“It’s a long journey,” DeFeo replied. 

The question, “So what are you going to do with that?” feels more existential when the path is less easily defined. That’s OK. Pehlke will continue putting out content he hopes will brighten someone’s day. He’ll stay consistent and on schedule. 

There are no names on the Buckeyes’ lockers in the Schumaker Complex. Instead, next to each player’s number is a word that they hope to live up to throughout the year.

For 2021, Pehlke picked, “Evolve.” 

He knows success rarely happens overnight. 

“I really want to do this as a job,” he said. “If I can be financially stable doing something I love, I’ve hit it. That’s the most successful thing I can do.”