ATHENS — A reporter wasn’t even able to get the question all the way out of his mouth about Malcolm Mitchell’s injury-free camp before the Georgia wide receiver interrupted him.
“Don’t jinx me, man,” he asserted.
He laughed. A little.
For Mitchell, his good health this season is no joking matter.
“That’s my number one goal,” the senior from Valdosta said. “To play every game.”
That hasn’t happened yet in Mitchell’s career. So everybody has been left to wonder what a season might look like if he could get all the way through one without any injury setbacks. Because when he has been well and stayed on the field, Mitchell has been very, very good.
Malcolm Mitchell talks to reporters about injuries, the wide receiving corps and his new book before practice Wednesday in Athens. (AJC / CHIP TOWERS)
Mitchell enters his senior season with 116 career catches for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, tops among returning wideouts in the SEC. He has done so with just four starts and not playing in double-digit games since 2012.
“I’ve thought about that the last four seasons,” Mitchell said of the prospect of playing in every game. “I’m always jinxed every time. This time I’m just going to worry about day-to-day stuff. I have practice today, so that’s my focus.”
So far, that has been a successful approach. Except for one practice in which he sat out a few drills with a slight groin pull, there have been no setbacks. The troublesome knee that cost him a whole season in 2013 and a bunch of last year has held up. There have been no hamstring pulls, no ankle twists and no shoulder pop-outs. Mitchell’s body has not betrayed him.
That’s a particularly big deal this season. Mitchell stands as pretty much the Bulldogs’ only proven commodity out wide. There are some lettermen with moderate experience, and there are some freshmen with some incredible potential.
But it’s only in Mitchell that the Bulldogs truly know what they’re getting.
“I feel good. Excited about the season,” he said in a rare interview opportunity before practice Wednesday. “The fact alone that it’s the last one for me makes it very exciting. It’s my last chance to give UGA all I have.”
Mitchell’s situation stands in sharp contrast to that of Justin Scott-Wesley. The fellow senior wideout and South Georgia product recently aggravated the right knee injury that has plagued him for the previous two seasons.
This latest misstep reportedly will not require surgery. But at one point earlier this week, Scott-Wesley hinted that he was going to give up the game and help the Bulldogs in a volunteer coaching role. Then his high school coach intimated on Tuesday that Scott-Wesley was now contemplating making yet another comeback for the good of the team.
Mitchell has counseled with and served as a confidante for Scott-Wesley as he navigates his situation.
“My job as a teammate and more so as a friend is to support whatever he’s going through and whatever route he takes through those tough times,” Mitchell said. “And that’s the only answer I have for that, because I’m not qualified to say what’s right or what’s wrong and what he should do or he shouldn’t do.
“To see injuries back-to-back-to-back-to-back is not only physical pain, it’s mental pain as well,” Mitchell said. “However, each and every individual handles that is different.”
In the meantime, Mitchell has a lot of good stuff going on. In particular, the children’s book he authored finally gets released for sale on Saturday. “The Magician’s Hat” will be available at the UGA Bookstore and on Mitchell’s website, readwithmalcolm.com, as well as other places.
It will retail for just under $16, and Mitchell has gone through an exhausting clearinghouse process with UGA and the NCAA to ensure that everything has been done in compliance with NCAA rules.
“That’s been the longest process,” Mitchell said. “I was actually just talking to somebody from the NCAA in the building today. I just told her thank you and I really appreciated the timely response that they’ve given me. There’s been a lot of back-and-forth. There’s a lot of things I can do and I can’t do and a lot of other things that other people can’t do that I can’t control.
“So there are some restrictions. But overall the book will be released, will be sold, and I think it’s the first time the NCAA has ‘waivered’ such things that will generate revenue and allow you to promote your own product. I appreciate everything they’ve done and for UGA allowing me to do it.”
As for the Bulldogs’ on-the-field prospects, Mitchell said the rumors of Georgia being undermanned and out-gunned at the receiver position are greatly exaggerated.
“I hope they keep thinking that way,” Mitchell said. “That way we’ll get single-high coverage, one-on-one. We’ll take it.”
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