ATHENS — They got him. Hook, line and sinker. Malcolm Mitchell was had.
Late Tuesday morning Georgia’s star receiver went to Barrow Elementary School, right across Pinecrest Drive from the UGA football complex, under the pretense of reading to children there. It’s nothing unusual for Mitchell, a published author of a children’s book and the proprietor of www.readwithmalcolm.com, a website he created to help foster in kids the love of reading he developed at the University of Georgia.
But that’s not what this was about. Not directly.
The invitation to read to the Barrow kids was actually a ruse to surprise Mitchell with the news of his inclusion on the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. He was one of 11 FBS college football players across America who were selected because of their “positive impact on others and their communities” and deemed to “have used their limited free time to perform inspirational acts of service.”
Upon Mitchell’s arrival, he not only was greeted by dozens of third graders as expected, but then also Allstate Insurance associates and some personal friends in a surprise award presentation.
“They got me,” Mitchell said when talking to reporters a while later at Georgia’s weekly media day gathering. “I don’t get surprised too often. But they got me. I just thought I was doing what I always do, you know, trying to encourage kids to read.”
You couldn’t ask for a better set-up. One of the main reasons Mitchell was nominated for the award, which is voted on by a panel of current and former coaches and players, is he has made reading his primary platform as his star has risen as a standout wide receiver for the Bulldogs.
Mitchell freely admits that he arrived at UGA from Valdosta High School reading at about a junior high level. But through the tutoring process, the college experience and that now famous encounter with Athens resident Kathy Rackley, who invited him into her women’s book club and was present on Tuesday, Mitchell became a voracious reader. Now he is a passionate and outspoken proponent of early reading development for children.
Mitchell laughed Tuesday when he thought about the person he has become compared to the hotshot recruiting prospect who arrived in Athens answering to the nicknames of “Tampa” and “Money Mitch.” That guy intended to stop off at UGA only long enough to get his ticket to the NFL.
“My mentality was a lot different coming into college compared to where it is today,” Mitchell said. “I’ve just learned a lot as an individual through experience and reading. It has shaped the way I carry myself in general.”
The other members of the FBS Good Works include Kelby Brown (Duke), Deon Bush (Miami), James Conner (Pitt), Landon Foster (Kentucky), Driphus Jackson (Rice), Ben Kline (Penn State), Myer Krah (Naval Academy), Trent Matthews (Colorado State), Joshua Perry (Ohio State) and Jonathan Wallace (Auburn). There were also 11 other recipients FCS and lower divisions.
Mitchell joins a long list of Bulldogs to have been bestowed with the Good Works honor. In fact, including Chris Conley and Aaron Murray the last two seasons, UGA has produced 16 such honorees overall, more than any school in the country.
“That’s a great honor for our student-athletes to be thought of in that light, and we absolutely love our men of character here at Georgia,” coach Mark Richt said.
That Mitchell received such an award was not surprising. That they ambushed him so well was.
“It really didn’t take much convincing,” Mitchell said with a grin. “They’re right across the street, so I figured I’d go before practice. I walked in and began to give my spiel, then they came in and surprised me.”
Yes, they got him.