Valdosta Daily Times

December 26, 2011

No. 7: Malcolm Mitchell’s big year at Georgia

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — When Malcolm Mitchell signed his national letter of intent to play college football at the University of Georgia back in January, many Bulldog fans wanted to know if he would play offense or defense at the next level.

After all, the former multi-talented Valdosta Wildcat star was ranked as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation, according to Rivals.com, while also being known as an offensive weapon for the ’Cats, hauling in 77 catches for 1,419 yards his senior season.

At first, some thought the answer was defense. Then the 2010 Region 1-AAAAA Player of the Year started working out with UGA quarterback Aaron Murray during the summer in Athens, and the rest was history.

The 6-foot-1-inch freshman quickly became the discussion at SEC Media Days, when Murray spoke up about how impressive Mitchell had been during workouts, noting his speed and quickness as a weapon the Bulldogs could use in 2011. “I haven’t seen speed and quickness like that for a while,” Murray said in August. “The other day he ran a post pattern and split our starting safety and one of our starting corners. Shawn Williams came up to me afterward and he’s like, ‘Aaron, I’ve never seen somebody with that kind of speed before.’ You ask any of the DBs, Boykin or any of those guys, Malcolm has unbelievable speed, unbelievable quickness.”

Once the Bulldogs opened camp, coaches decided to officially move the former Wildcat to wide receiver. The move proved to be a good one for the Bulldogs.

Mitchell wasted little time proving the Bulldogs’ quarterback right, getting into the action early and often for UGA. The freshman caught a touchdown pass in UGA’s season-opening loss to Boise State — a highlight that is currently being used by ESPN in their Capital One Bowl Week commercials.

“It was just working hard through the summer and going out there with Aaron everyday to learn the playbook,” Mitchell said. “Just getting a connection with the quarterback really helped, and so when the season rolled around we already had that connection.”

Mitchell followed up his season-opening three catch performance against the Broncos with an even bigger performance in the Bulldogs’ 45-42 loss to South Carolina, hauling a team-high five catches for 52 yards.

Despite Mitchell’s early season success, the Bulldogs were were winless in two tries to start the season, and rumors started to surface about whether head coach Mark Richt would be fired. To Mitchell, the early season struggles were just a learning experience for not just himself, but the whole team.

“It taught a lot of leadership,” Mitchell said. “As far as the seniors, they just kept everybody’s minds on the right track and kept our confidence up that we could win the rest of the games.”

That confidence the seniors instilled in Mitchell and the rest of the team paid off, as the Bulldogs won 10-straight games and earned the SEC East Division championship.

In the first win of the season for the Bulldogs, Mitchell was once again a favorite target for Murray, snatching a team-high six catches, one that went for a touchdown.

Following their shutout victory over Coastal Carolina, the Bulldogs earned their first conference win of the season, coming on the road in Oxford, Miss. against Ole Miss. Once again, Mitchell proved to be a threat for UGA, as he and Murray connected on a 69-yard pass that set up a second quarter touchdown pass from Murray to tightend Orson Charles.

The following week, Mitchell was once again the go-to target for Murray, leading Georgia with five catches for 60 yards with a touchdown in a victory over Mississippi State.

Mitchell’s season long success continued the next week against Tennessee, recording a season-high 126 yards receiving before injury his hamstring, an injury sidelined him for Georgia’s next three games, including the annual rivalry game against the University of Florida in Jacksonville.

“Missing the Florida game was bad,” Mitchell said. “They had me sit down and watch the team play without me.”

In his return from injury, Mitchell helped the Bulldogs route defending BCS National Champion Auburn, 45-10, as he hauled in three catches for 85 yards with a touchdown.

Mitchell closed out the Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak with six combined catches for 62 yards in wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech.

In the conference championship game, Mitchell and the Bulldogs jumped out early, despite failing to capitalize on early touchdown opportunities, including a wide-open touchdown pass that Mitchell dropped in the first quarter of the game. In the end, LSU blew out the Bulldogs in the second half, earning a 45-10 victory. In the loss, Mitchell finished the game with four catches for just 32 yards, but once again the freshman used the loss as a learning point.

“It just helped show how good another team can be,” Mitchell said. “It showed us the level that we have to play at to be good.”

In his 10 games this season, Mitchell managed to post the third most receptions on the Georgia roster, hauling in 38 passes for 614 yards with five touchdowns, the second most of any player on the team.

Following the completion of the regular season, Mitchell was named to the Freshman All-SEC team after a vote the conference’s coaches. He was also named to the All-SEC Third Team, as he ranked fourth in the SEC in receiving, averaging 61.4 yards per game.

Mitchell will get one final opportunity to impress the nation this season, when Georgia faces Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.