Regardless of how Malcolm Mitchell’s season goes this fall, his career at Georgia is going to have a happy ending.
He’s already written it.
Mitchell’s primary reason for being at UGA is to catch passes and score touchdowns for the Bulldogs’ football team. He has done that to a successful enough degree that he was included in Georgia’s entourage for SEC Media Days.
But he also showed up Thursday with something no player in the history of the conference has ever brought before to this venue – his own book.
Mitchell, an outspoken advocate for children’s literacy, wrote The Magician’s Hat over the past year. It will be available for purchase next month.
“My journey into reading inspired me to start doing some writing of my own,” Mitchell said, with an advanced copy of his new book sitting in his lap. “Working with kids pushed me toward the picture book and children’s book route. I started working on it over a year ago. … I’ve put a lot of work into this to make it as professional as possible.”
To know Mitchell’s story is to realize what a truly astonishing accomplishment that is. Mitchell freely admits that he showed up in Athens from Valdosta barely reading at a middle-school level. But between the instruction he received at UGA and the time with which he found himself as he recovered from a litany of injuries, Mitchell became a voracious recreational reader.
A chance meeting with a middle-aged woman in a local book store led to his now-famous inclusion in a women’s book club. He since has founded the “Reading with Malcolm” program where he travels to schools around the state to tell his story and read to kids. And now he has written his first book.
Not coincidental to all this, Mitchell has become a bit a a big deal beyond his football work. He already has been nominated for the AFCA Allstate Goodworks team and for the Danny Wuerffel Award for distinguished community service this year.
None of that would have seemed fathomable four years ago when he came to Georgia from Valdosta as high-profile recruit. He burst on the scene as a two-way player, then a big-play wideout. But the darnedest thing happened on the way to athletic greatness. The high-flying athlete was brought crashing down to earth by an injured knee in 2013.
Lo and behold, that injury might have been the most fortuitous thing yet to happen to Mitchell. With his proverbial wings clipped, Mitchell was left to sit and read.
“I definitely believe that my story wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t get injured,” Mitchell said. “It definitely gave me time to read a lot more. So I kind of do appreciate the injury, more so now than I did initially. I didn’t think I’d say that. That’s for sure.”
The a 6-1, 194-pound split end is still a pretty good football player. Despite another preseason knee injury, Mitchell was the team’s third-leading receiver in 2014 with 31 catches for 248 yards and three touchdowns while playing in nine games. Mitchell, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the 2013 opener, had a combined 85 catches for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns during his first two seasons in 2011-12.
As for this season, Mitchell will be counted on heavily to be the Bulldogs’ primary target in a year where they’re short on reliable ones.
“You don’t want to sit there and make predictions what a guy’s going to do, but we know he’s a very talented player and a very explosive player. We know he has the ability to snatch a ball and he’s got speed and agility. And he’ll have experience. So if we can do a good job in our running game and create some one-on-one situations for him and the rest of our receivers, I’m expecting him to make plays.”
His coaches and teammates are expecting a lot of Mitchell on the field. But they are truly beaming about his personal development.
“I’m proud of the guy,” said Richt, who wrote the foreword for the book. “As a father you want your children to grow. You want them to chase their dreams, but you also want them to be a well-rounded human being. That’s very important, too, especially in the sports world.”
Said senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins: “I’ve never seen a guy like Malcolm, coming from Valdosta, completely flip like he has the past couple of years and start doing things like writing his own book. When I saw that, I was surprised and so proud of Malcolm for doing that. To see a guy like that come to college, start reading and then make his own book, that’s an incredible accomplishment.”
Mitchell said he’d still like to play in the NFL and he remains extremely motivated to help Georgia win a championship this season. But whatever happens on the football field this fall, he knows achieved his destiny.
“I always wanted to be something more than just your average football player,” he said. “I started watching documentaries on people that I saw as successful, like Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. The core of all of their success always had something to do with reading. I realized I needed to become a better reader. That’s what pushed me towards it. What kept me in it was all the great stories I’ve read.”
Mitchell was asked to summarize his tome.
“This book is about a magician named David,” he said. “You know how moist magician’s tricks are about pulling rabbits out of hats or quarters out from behind kids’ ears? His specialty is showing the magical powers of books and how reading can influence you to do things you never thought.”
Such as writing books.
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