ATHENS – The plan, as Malcolm Mitchell and many others always figured, was for his final home game to go unmarked. Because it was supposed to be two years ago. He would play coy about whether he was turning pro, declare for the NFL draft after the season, and that would be it.
So much about Mitchell’s college football career, and his life, didn’t go as planned. Five years ago, or even two years ago, he never thought that his goal for his post-football life would be to “try to become the James Patterson of our generation.”
Mitchell didn’t know who Patterson was a few years ago, much less read him. Or read books at all.
The story of how Mitchell’s life turned – from five-star recruit out of Valdosta who read at a junior high school level to avid reader and author of a children’s book – has been well-documented. It also appears to be more than just a temporary, nice story.
Oh, Mitchell still plans on pursuing a football career “as long as I’m granted the opportunity.” He has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, the top postseason showcase game for the NFL draft. He’s tied for fourth on Georgia’s career catches list, and is seventh in receiving yards. This senior season, his fifth because of a medical redshirt in 2013, has salvaged a career interrupted by knee injuries, and there’s still time for an NFL career.
“If he was healthy and played three great years, he might’ve been gone for two years,” coach Mark Richt said. “Now here he is in his fifth year, but he’s learned a lot about life along the way.”
It was last year that Mitchell and his mother were in Richt’s office, discussing whether he should turn pro. Mitchell hadn’t played the entire season and probably wouldn’t be a top pick, but there’s only so many years you can play, so he was considering it.
As Richt remembers it, this is what he told Mitchell, in front of his mother: “The good thing about you, Malcolm, is whether there’s the NFL or not, you’re going to make it in life. You’re a very smart young man. You’re a very polite young man. You have people skills. You have a lot to offer. You care about people. You’re more than just a one-dimensional human being that football is your only identity and that’s all there is in your life. Whether you play in the NFL or not, you’ll make it.”
That surprised Mitchell.
“At the time I had no idea what would make him say that,” Mitchell said. “The stuff about the book wasn’t out yet, right. So I hadn’t said anything about it. So obviously him making that comment (meant) he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, which was encouraging.”
Mitchell is already planning to write more books, whether it’s during or after an NFL career. Set to graduate in December with a degree in communications degree, he’s interested in getting a master’s degree in rhetoric.
Yes, rhetoric. Mitchell said it would help with creative writing. His one author credit, “The Magician’s Hat,” is a children’s book, but he aspires to write for adults, just like the prolific Patterson.
“Hopefully I can write. I really enjoy it, I really love the process,” Mitchell said. “I really love just talking about the books and the different things I read.”
He was asked what a book about his career at Georgia would say.
“It’d be a pretty interesting story. For sure,” Mitchell said, grinning. “Probably too long for one book.”
Good freshman and sophomore seasons. An ACL injury in the first game the following year, while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown. Another knee injury the preseason of last year, delaying his return.
And now, finally, a season in which he’s played every game and has probably been Georgia’s offensive MVP, perhaps the best player on the entire team.
He’s having the final year that a lot of people thought he would. It’s just later than expected, with a lot of stuff in between.
“Coming into college the thought process was to become the best football player I could become,” Mitchell said. “And throughout the different challenges I think something else inside me elevated, which is something I didn’t foresee coming. So when I look back I’d say UGA definitely helped me become a better individual.”
Now comes his final home game, two years later than planned. Mitchell was asked his favorite memory. He avoided it by using another book reference.
“I don’t think the chapter has come to a conclusion yet,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what happens from this point on.”