Before the Peach Bowl, Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey hyped up AD Mitchell.

“I feel like you’re gonna have a game. I’ve got faith in you. Just keep your composure, play, let the game come to you,” McConkey told his fellow wideout ahead of the Playoff semifinal against Ohio State.

What McConkey and others knew was that Mitchell’s circumstances were unique. He had gone from last year’s national championship hero to this year’s “can’t stay on the field” guy. It’d be easy for him to press.

Nearly 12 months removed from his go-ahead 40-yard touchdown grab to deliver UGA its 1st national title in 41 years, Mitchell had only 7 catches since. It wasn’t the Year 2 breakout that he had hoped for after the departures of George Pickens and Jermaine Burton. Instead, there were more in-season updates about his injured ankle — they were more like non-updates coming from Kirby Smart — than there were catches by the wideout.

But McConkey’s Peach Bowl prediction was rooted in a couple of things. One was that even though Mitchell’s only touch in the SEC Championship Game was tossing a 2-point conversion pass to Darnell Washington, he played 15 snaps, his most since the season opener against Oregon, when he was last healthy. McConkey also knew something else about Mitchell — this was exactly the type of stage he thrived on.

Don’t ya know it, McConkey was spot on.

With the Bulldogs again trailing in the 4th quarter of a Playoff game, whom did Stetson Bennett IV turn to in the corner of the end zone? Mitchell. That nagging ankle injury didn’t prevent Mitchell from getting a half-step of separation on Denzel Burke, who couldn’t stay with the wideout in press-man coverage:

Yep. Just how McConkey and Georgia drew it up. Add that to Mitchell’s ever-growing legacy. Three Playoff games, 3 games with a touchdown.

Of course, UGA would’ve preferred to have had a healthy Mitchell all year. This was the guy who played the highest percentage of offensive snaps among UGA receivers last year, after he took advantage of the opportunity available when Pickens tore his ACL in the spring. There was hope that the guy who had touchdowns in both of Georgia’s 2021 Playoff games would take another step in 2022.

The ankle injury that Mitchell suffered in Week 2 against Samford was supposed to be just day-to-day. Well, at least that’s what Smart made it seem like afterward, when he said that Mitchell could’ve come back in if Georgia had needed him. It turned out to be an injury that sidelined the sophomore until the Auburn game on Oct. 8. Then we found out that Mitchell had tweaked his high ankle sprain. And just in case that wasn’t enough, Smart shared that he had also been dealing with a thumb injury.

Smart would provide updates such as that they were “hopeful” to get Mitchell back soon. But “soon” meant not seeing the field for nearly 2 months after the Auburn setback.

Here’s a rundown of Mitchell’s snaps in 2022:

  • Week 1: 36
  • Week 2: 2 (injured ankle)
  • Week 3: 0
  • Week 4: 0
  • Week 5: 0
  • Week 6: 3 (tweaked ankle)
  • Week 7: 0
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: 0
  • Week 10: 0
  • Week 11: 0
  • Week 12: 0
  • Week 13: 0
  • SEC Championship: 15
  • Peach Bowl: 49

For a good chunk of the season, Mitchell’s action has been off to the side doing individual drills. The irony is that’s exactly what got him to Georgia in the 1st place.

Mitchell’s high school career was atypical. He spent 3 years in Texas before moving to Tennessee to play for Eddie Woods at Cane Ridge High School. Mitchell was set to graduate in late spring of 2020. But with only a handful of offers by the end of a senior season in which he had 49 catches for 795 yards — he originally wanted to go to Tennessee, but he didn’t get the interest he was hoping for from Jeremy Pruitt’s staff — an uncommitted Mitchell elected to play the long game once the pandemic started. Instead of enrolling somewhere over the summer (players weren’t even allowed back at facilities until July), he decided to spend that time working out in hopes of getting big-time offers and reclassifying to 2021.

Mitchell focused on route-running, and he treated that time like his own personal combine. Whether he was working out in Tennessee or back in Texas, the goal was the same — impress those bigger programs. Woods reached out to coaches, one of whom was on Mitchell early in that process.

“I was selling the crap out of him,” Woods told SDS. “We got Ole Miss to really buy into him. Lane Kiffin offered him, and he ended up committing to Ole Miss.”

Even after he gave his verbal commitment to the Rebels in April 2020, Mitchell continued to get his videos out during the NCAA-enforced dead period. It worked. Texas came along. Eventually, Smart’s staff couldn’t ignore Mitchell’s videos.

“When Georgia came,” Woods said, “(Mitchell) was like, ‘Coach, if they come, I’m outta here.’”

Georgia offered him that July. And on a Zoom call with his family, Woods, Smart, UGA offensive coordinator Todd Monken and former UGA receivers coach Cortez Hankton, Mitchell committed to the Dawgs.

After an offseason mastering his route-running craft, Mitchell got to Georgia as an early enrollee in the class of 2021. Instantly, he made an impression on his classmates. Fellow 2021 signee Javon Bullard recalled days of watching Mitchell work out on the Juggs machine by himself. JT Daniels said that he didn’t miss a single throwing session that offseason.

By the time that Pickens and Kearis Jackson went down with preseason injuries, Mitchell was ready to step in and become a reliable target.

“The plays that he makes don’t happen overnight,” Bullard said. “It’s through the preparation and the work he’s put in behind closed doors that makes him the player that he is.”

It helped the late-blooming Mitchell that he hit another growth spurt after getting to Georgia. No longer was he the raw 6-2 senior who came to play for Woods. The combination of the 6-4 frame and Mitchell’s work ethic proved to be a perfect fit in Monken’s offense.

“AD deserves everything that he’s gonna get,” Bullard said. “AD is an extremely hard worker. And I came in with AD. So our friendship goes beyond the football field. And I just love watching him play. He’s an emotional player, cares about this game, and he cares about his team and he cares about winning.

“Like I say, AD deserves everything he’s going to get, not only coming up, but in life in general.”

The question is, what will Mitchell get in the College Football Playoff National Championship against TCU on Monday night?

He’ll probably get a healthy dose of Jim Thorpe Award winner Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who usually covers outside receivers like Mitchell. If it’s not Hodges-Tomlinson, Josh Newton figures to line up across from Mitchell. Both of them were 1st-team All-Big 12 corners.

Either way, Mitchell will have his work cut out for him to score a touchdown in his 4th different Playoff game. He should feel right at home with those circumstances.

“Not having a lot of attention early is a blessing sometimes,” Woods said. “By him having that underdog mentality, he had that last year and then this year, having a frustrating year with all the injuries to come in and make a play like that (against Ohio State) … he ran a hell of a route.”

To take a page out of McConkey’s playbook, let’s just say that nobody should be surprised if Mitchell runs another hell of a route in winning time on Monday night.