TAMPA, Fla. -- The nickname was given to Malcolm Mitchell by a coach in Valdosta who couldn’t remember his name. He could only remember where Mitchell had just come from: Tampa.
So for his teenage years, and sometimes even to this day, Mitchell is known as “Tampa.”
“A lot of players call me that still,” he said.
The Georgia freshman receiver was born in south Georgia and spent most of his childhood in Valdosta. But between the ages of 3 to 11 he lived in Tampa, the site of Monday’s Outback Bowl.
So that makes three key Georgia players with ties to the city: Quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles grew up there and played high school ball in Tampa. Charles lives a few minutes from the University of Tampa, where Georgia is practicing.
Mitchell’s connection to Tampa is a bit more tenuous, and he hasn’t been back much since leaving.
“I know some parts in some areas,” he said. “I was real young, so I didn’t know all the places I would know now.”
But Mitchell did begin his football career in Tampa. He recalled playing at a YMCA just outside of town, and from there has sprouted a very promising career.
He leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards this year, despite missing three games with a hamstring injury. He is arguably Georgia’s top playmaker on offense and could enter next season as an All-SEC candidate.
Mitchell only decided to play receiver on National Signing Day, after thinking he would play cornerback in college. He said he still teases Georgia’s defensive coaches about moving back to cornerback but called it nothing serious.
Head coach Mark Richt recalled last summer senior cornerback Brandon Boykin telling him that Mitchell might already be the best receiver and defensive back on the team.
“He was being a little facetious, but he knew he had a lot of talent,” Richt said. “So we weren’t surprised when we got to practice that he was gonna be a guy that was gonna be a playmaker.”
Richard Samuel began the year as Georgia’s starting tailback and has a chance to finish it that way. But the junior still has some work to do.
Samuel had ankle surgery after the game against Florida, when he scored the game-winning touchdown. He is nearly back to full health and will get reps this week in a very up-in-the-air tailback field.
“I’ve gotta pick up where I left off in the Florida game and continue progressing,” Samuel said.
Samuel enters with 240 rushing yards in seven games. He moved back to tailback after spending a redshirt year at linebacker and was expected to team with freshman Isaiah Crowell. But Samuel could never quite get going until the Florida game, and then he got hurt on the final play.
“I would say the season is (about) getting better, making improvements game by game,” Samuel said. “With the injury, that’s a major setback, and it’s going uphill from there. You just have to recover from it and keep on moving.”
Richt remains optimistic about Samuel.
“He isn’t forgotten. He’s been hurt. We’ve been anticipating his playing again,” Richt said. “He’s gonna be a tailback next year and he’ll do well.”
Richt said Ken Malcome, a redshirt freshman, begins this week as the No. 1 tailback but said it was a “highly competitive” situation.
“Richard’s back in the fold, and he’ll have something to say about that, as well as Isaiah,” Richt said.
As Georgia practices this week, it will do so under letters that spell out “SPARTANS” -- the nickname for Tampa but also Michigan State, which is the opponent for Monday’s bowl game.
Richt didn’t know that until the team got off the bus, and he also wasn’t crazy about a building overlooking the practice field.
“A lot of windows over there too, you know,” Richt said.
Senior defensive end DeAngelo Tyson wasn’t practicing Tuesday. But Richt said he hopes Tyson, who has an injured ankle, will see some work before the week is over.
Inside linebacker Mike Gilliard, the team’s second-leading tackler, was in pads but was in a green non-contact jersey. Gilliard hurt his ankle in the SEC championship but tested it over the Christmas break by running away from a bull after cow-tipping in Valdosta.
“Over the break, in south Georgia, we went cow tipping, just for the fun,” Gilliard said. “And (on Monday) Coach Richt asked me, ‘How’s the ankle,’ and I said over the break I ran once, and it was while I was cow-tipping. Basically I ran from a male bull, and I hopped over the fence. It was all good. That was the only time I ran over the break, though. I felt good.”