AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — For a guy who made two of the biggest plays in Georgia history the past two seasons, Adonai Mitchell should be used to celebrating touchdowns by now.
But when it came to his first scoring catch for No. 11 Texas, last week against Rice, Mitchell admits he was unsure exactly what he was supposed to do. It is fair to say the scene was different than he is used to: there was no confetti in the end zone, and the firing of Old Smokey the cannon can be unsettling for the uninitiated.
“I ain't gonna lie. I don't know if y'all could tell but I didn't know what to do. I was just like, ‘Hey, what’s up, Hook ’em,’” said Mitchell, who high-fived a couple of fans at the back of the end zone. "I’ve got to get better.”
Texas hopes he will have plenty of practice to fine-tune his scoring celebrations, starting this weekend when the Longhorns play at No. 3 Alabama.
Mitchell was one of the biggest talents to hit the transfer portal after last season and the former Georgia Bulldog is a new wrinkle in a showdown with the Crimson Tide that is both a rematch of last season's 20-19 Alabama win, and preview of a rivalry-to-be when the Longhorns join the Southeastern Conference in 2024.
Mitchell and Alabama already have some notable history.
He was a freshman when he hauled in a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the national championship game against the Tide that gave Georgia the lead and the first of back-to-back titles. He missed most of last season with an ankle injury, but was a Georgia hero again when he returned in time for the postseason and caught the last-minute game-winner against Ohio State in the semifinal.
Of his seven career Georgia touchdowns, four came in the playoff. And considering just how important some of those were for the Bulldogs, Mitchell could have just as easily stayed in Athens and soaked up the cheers still to come between the hedges at Sanford Stadium
It was the coos and cuddles of his daughter, 2-year-old Icylinn, that drew him home to Texas. Mitchell had played most of his high school football in Missouri City, Texas, near Houston. until a move to Tennessee before his senior year.
“He struggled a lot with her being so far away,” said Adonai's father, Norman Mitchell. “And, at the end of the day, it was a decision to be closer to his daughter.”
And there was still a struggle to depart Georgia, knowing what Adonai Mitchell was leaving behind: a chance at a third national championship with a team that is ranked No. 1 again this season even though it had to replace starting quarterback Stetson Bennett and offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“Of course he loved it in Georgia," Norman Mitchell said. “They were brothers. Arm in arm.”
But he also counseled Adona not to miss the opportunity to be closer to his daughter, who was being raised by her grandparents in the Houston area while her father was in school.
“My job as a father was to make sure he’s a man and take care of his responsibilities as a dad,” Norman Mitchell said. “I'm so proud of him.”
Within days of strolling through the end zone confetti after the Bulldogs’ championship game romp over TCU last season, Mitchell was in the transfer portal with Icylinn on his mind. Less than two weeks later, he announced he was heading to Texas.
He had closed the 900-mile gap between himself and his family and was joining a Longhorns offense that could be among the most explosive in the country, not a small consideration for a draft-eligible junior.
Mitchell’s transfer announcement on social media included a photo himself with Icylinn in his lap. She was holding a football. Both were dressed in Longhorns gear.
And now instead of just FaceTime calls with his daughter, Mitchell can jump in the car for a two-hour drive for visits, which Norman Mitchell said happened often during the offseason.
“That’s honestly been the best part,” Adonai Mitchell when asked about coming home to family. “When I was away, you know, I didn’t get that. I didn’t get that time with my mom. I didn’t get that time with my family, and most of all, my daughter.”
There was still the football part to attend to.
Mitchell joined a Texas lineup already loaded with pass catchers. His coaches knew what they were getting, and Mitchell quickly got fans buzzing with an acrobatic, one-handed catch in the spring game.
Alabama has already seen what Mitchell can do. And old rivals likely won't forget it come Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
“He's been in the fire, has been in the big games with big plays,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He brings instant credibility and backs it up.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll