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After 10 surgeries, Malcolm Mitchell still hopes to return to NFL

ATLANTA -- Former New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was an unsung hero in Super Bowl LI but hasn’t played in two seasons with a lingering knee injury, said Wednesday that he isn’t giving up hope to return to the NFL despite undergoing 10 surgeries.

“I’m still motivated. I’m still encouraged. I’m recovering -- the last surgery totaled out to be No. 10, and it takes a little while to come back from it,” Mitchell told ESPN.com. “But I am working my way back. And I’ll be back.”

The 25-year-old, who had starred at the University of Georgia and was a fourth-round draft choice of the Patriots in 2016, was instrumental in the comeback from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons.

He had five catches for 63 yards in the fourth quarter of that game, after having just one reception in the first half. One of the biggest plays he made was a 12-yard catch to produce a first down on third-and-11, which helped set up the touchdown and two-point conversion to trim the deficit to 28-20.

Mitchell’s contributions, along with his inspirational message to spread the importance of reading, endeared him to Patriots fans and beyond. He played in 16 games as a rookie (including playoffs) and totaled 39 receptions for 476 yards and four touchdowns. Because of the ongoing knee issues, he spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve and was released this past August.

“I still have New England in my heart. I think I always will,” he said, adding that he wears his Patriots hoodie on game days and maintains contact with several former teammates, including quarterback Tom Brady. “Jonathan Jones and I were great friends even before we ended up on the same team. On New Year’s, I texted everyone, from Devin McCourty, to Matthew Slater, to Tom, to Julian [Edelman]. I know Danny [Amendola] isn’t on the team any more, but we still talk. It’s fun. Duron Harmon has been a huge encouragement. So I try to keep those relationships. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there.”

Mitchell was wearing his Super Bowl LI ring Wednesday.

A native of Valdosta, Georgia, who is an author of children’s books, he has continued to be an advocate for the importance of reading and took part in a Community Reading Day in Atlanta on Wednesday.