Former Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell sat behind a podium with a media horde placing microphones in front of his face.
Sure, that’s nothing different for a professional football player, as there is an obligation to speak with reporters at certain times. But what made it special for the New England Patriots’ rookie playmaker was the cap he wore, which read “Super Bowl LI champions,” after an impressive 34-28 comeback victory against his home-state Atlanta Falcons.
Walking off of the field at NRG Stadium with the confetti falling down, Mitchell stopped in front of a camera in pure elation.
“What a first year,” he said. “Super Bowl champs, baby. Super Bowl champs.”
Mitchell was able to call himself a champion for the first time in his entire playing career.
After nine years of high school and college ball in the state of Georgia, he finally could hoist a trophy with the New England Patriots over a team many of his friends grew up rooting for.
But as he’s able to partake in the Super Bowl parade in Boston, no remorse lies for those Atlanta Falcons fans back home.
“Not (any sympathy) at all,” Mitchell said. “If they give me grief, I’ll just show them my shirt.”
Mitchell became a star at Valdosta, where his chances to win a title would seem strong due to the program’s 24 state championships. Mitchell put on a show, especially in his senior season, with 77 catches for 1,149 yards. But his team was in the midst of a dry spell.
Without sporting a high school championship ring, Mitchell traveled four hours north to play for the Bulldogs in Athens. He was the second-overall rated athlete in the state of Georgia for the 2011 recruiting class and was expected to contribute immediately.
But Mitchell’s career in Athens wasn’t a smooth ride. In his freshman season, he missed one-third of his games due to a hamstring injury but still had a productive campaign with 665 yards and hauling in four touchdowns.
Mitchell’s sophomore season was his first chance to claim a title with Georgia facing Alabama in the SEC championship game. Mitchell finished that game with 40 yards on four receptions, with the Bulldogs losing in a game that came down to a final drive.
As a junior, Mitchell’s Bulldogs were expected to be contenders in 2013. Those aspirations fell short in a marquee season-opening showdown with Clemson. Former Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley scored a touchdown and Mitchell tore his ACL shortly thereafter during the end-zone celebration.
While rehabbing, Mitchell ventured out into another walk of life and joined a women’s book club. The story became highly publicized about how the opportunity came about for Mitchell and led him to pen his first children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, which encourages children to enhance their amount of reading just as Mitchell did.
The book launched a campaign known as “Read with Malcolm,” which continues to be a driving force in advocating literacy among school-age children.
Mitchell made a return to the gridiron for his season as a fourth-year junior but only played eight games due to injuries.
After the rehabbing concluded on both fronts, Mitchell returned to the field as Georgia’s leading receiver in 2015.
The following April, the Patriots selected Mitchell in the fourth round of the NFL draft. He joined a former teammate at Georgia, David Andrews, who went on to win the starting center job during the preseason.
Both players proved valuable for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who continues to get the best of underrated players. Mitchell showed that yet again with six catches for 70 yards in New England’s Super Bowl LI victory.
It has been quite the 10-year experience for the south Georgia native and former Georgia Bulldogs player, and those around him have continued to be a driving force.
“I’ve always believed — my mom instilled in me to work hard,” Mitchell said after the victory. “Everything that I do, I always try to do my best. If opportunities come up, I try to take advantage of them.”