Malcolm Mitchell may have to write another book.
This season has been quite a story for the New England Patriots’ rookie wide receiver, who famously authored a children’s book while playing for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The latest chapter in Mitchell’s football career: He is drafted in the fourth round after an injury-interrupted college career, immediately becomes a reliable contributor to the Patriots’ offense, draws high praise from legendary quarterback Tom Brady and now caps his first season of pro football in the Super Bowl.
“To have this experience as a rookie is like a dream,” Mitchell said. “You know most people work their whole career to get to this point, and sometimes it never happens. And I’m fortunate enough to be here on my first year.”
Mitchell caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns this season, and some analysts have cited him as an under-the-radar candidate to make an impact as a No. 3 receiver in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Falcons.
Mitchell, who is from Valdosta, could hardly have foreseen all of this happening in the way that it has.
“I always say there’s a bigger plan than the ones we have for ourselves,” Mitchell said. “We see everything happening one way, and there’s a better plan for us laid out somewhere else.”
Mitchell tore the ACL in his right knee while celebrating a teammate’s touchdown in the first quarter of Georgia’s first game in 2013 and missed the rest of the season. He returned to action in 2014, but wasn’t at full effectiveness because of more knee injuries, playing in nine games (three starts) and catching 31 passes for 248 yards. He remained at UGA as a fifth-year senior in 2015, when he caught 58 passes for 866 yards.
By the end of his Georgia career, he had 174 catches for 2,350 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Along the way, he wrote a self-published children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, about the magical power of books and reading. He is passionate about promoting childhood literacy, having discovered a love for reading himself upon joining a women’s book club in Athens in 2014 after a chance encounter in a local bookstore.
If not for the torn ACL and other injuries, Mitchell would have entered the NFL draft a year earlier, maybe two. But it all worked out well when the Patriots made him the 112th pick of the draft in April.
As he processed what it would mean to join the organization of Brady and coach Bill Belichick, Mitchell heard from his former UGA teammate, second-year Patriots center David Andrews.
“He told me the amount of work that would need to be put in to have an opportunity to play for such a great organization,” Mitchell said. “From the beginning, I always thought: Work as hard as I can.
“From the beginning of training camp, I put my head down and just grinded it out. Just tried to take advantage of every opportunity that came, whenever it came.”
Mitchell brushed off a preseason elbow injury and played in 14 regular-season games. He improved throughout the season, catching a combined 12 passes in back-to-back December games.
“It says a lot for a rookie to be playing his best in December,” Brady told reporters at the time. “It speaks to what (Mitchell is) all about — his mindset, his character, his determination. He’s worked his butt off since he got here, and he’s put himself in a great position.”
Mitchell missed the Patriots’ divisional playoff game with a knee injury, but returned for the AFC Championship game, catching one pass against the Steelers. His knee will be fine for the Super Bowl, he said this week.
“I’m feeling good, feeling really good,” he said.
He has a lot to feel good about, including beginning his NFL career with four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brady.
“We sit next to each other in the locker room,” Mitchell said. “To have opportunities to compete (alongside) him is one of a kind.”
He also appreciates the opportunity to play for Belichick.
“For me, the most surprising thing (about playing for him) is the amount of detail that was put on learning everybody’s name within the first week,” Mitchell said. “Everybody knows he’s going to coach you hard, so that’s not surprising.”
After the Falcons-New England matchup was set, Mitchell began hearing from UGA friends who also are Falcons fans.
“They tell me to have a good game, but not too good,” he said with a laugh. “Or they say, ‘Go Dogs. Rise up.’ Or something like that.”
Despite his fondness for a good story, Mitchell discounted one angle of this Super Bowl: the rookie receiver who grew up in Georgia opposing his home-state team in the Super Bowl.
“I didn’t grow up near Atlanta, so I never really got the pull to that team,” he said of the Falcons. “I guess that’s fortunate for this situation.”