Healthy at last, Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell ready for grand finale

Healthy at last, Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell ready for grand finale

May 6th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell (26) runs past the Florida defense after a pass reception for a 45-yard touchdown.

Photo by AP Photo/John Raoux

Malcolm Mitchell recently completed his first healthy spring at Georgia.

If only the fifth-year senior receiver could finally enjoy an injury-free autumn.

"I've missed out on some opportunities because of injuries," Mitchell said, "but this is my chance to make up for all that."

A pulled hamstring, a sprained ankle, a torn meniscus and a torn anterior cruciate ligament have greatly hindered the former four-star talent out of Valdosta. He never has played a full collegiate season, coming closest in 2012 when an ankle injury kept him out of the opener against Buffalo.

Mitchell had yet to play in a G-Day spring game until last month.

The biggest setback of his career was the torn ACL suffered in the 2013 opener at Clemson, when he landed awkwardly after celebrating Todd Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder redshirted that year and wasn't cleared to play last season until the fifth game against Vanderbilt, helping relegate a nine-game starter in 2012 to three starts a year ago.

That he can commiserate with redshirt senior tight end Jay Rome, a fellow Valdosta High teammate who also has endured injuries throughout his career in Athens, hasn't made it any easier.

"Some days he might be down and some days I might be down, and I don't want this to sound selfish, but it's hard to pick yourself up," Mitchell said. "Until you pick yourself up, it's hard to motivate someone else. We always had that battle, but closer to the end we started pushing each other to get to where we wanted to be.

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell makes a catch against Florida.

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell makes a catch against...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"The lowest of the low for me was the Auburn game the year I tore my ACL. That's when they had the miracle catch. Watching every game that year was rough, but especially that one."

Mitchell's most productive season was his first one in 2011, when the All-SEC freshman tallied 45 receptions for 665 yards. He nearly matched those numbers as a sophomore, collecting 40 catches for 572 yards, and last season had 31 catches for 248 yards.

His yards per catch have slipped from 14.8 as a freshman to 8.0 last season, and Georgia coaches are hoping for that average to jump back up to complement a running game spearheaded by super sophomore Nick Chubb. Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Reggie Davis have shown they can stretch the field, but either injuries or inconsistencies have limited their impact.

Mitchell caught nine passes for 132 yards in the two closed scrimmages this spring. Statistics were provided to the media after each of those, and Mitchell's one G-Day yielded four catches for 36 yards.

"Malcolm made a lot of tough catches this spring," coach Mark Richt said.

Staying healthy the past few weeks was key for Mitchell, who spent time working with a trio of quarterbacks vying to become Hutson Mason's successor: Faton Bauta, Brice Ramsey and Jacob Park.

"You just have to get adjusted to their style of play, because they all play differently," Mitchell said. "Whoever wins the job won't come down to arm strength as much as the mental aspect."

Mitchell was a top-50 national prospect out of high school and instantly produced, amassing 126 yards on just three receptions at Tennessee as a freshman before pulling a hamstring. He briefly evoked memories of Champ Bailey as a sophomore by playing both cornerback and receiver before settling in again on offense.

Then came the big blow at Clemson, which helped result in Mitchell experiencing more hardships than the typical student-athlete.

"Family and faith are what pulled me through," Mitchell said. "This has taught me a lot about myself, and I've learned that I never quit. I don't give up."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.