Smiles, frowns for Atkinson
Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III carries the ball during last Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.
(Irish Sports Report/JAMES BROSHER)
9:00 am, April 23, 2012
George Atkinson III’s eyebrows rose. His smile stretched. His eyes got wide.
Did the Notre Dame sophomore-to-be running back, someone wanted to know, have an inkling that he would be on display during the April 21 Blue-Gold Game.
“Yeah, definitely,” Atkinson said as the eyebrows lowered, the smile waned and the pupils returned to normal size. “I knew it was going to be a good opportunity for me to take advantage and show the coaches what I can do with the ball.”
What Atkinson did with the ball was show a lot of speed and a good amount of power in gaining 124 yards on 15 carries in the annual wrapup to spring practice. The Gold (Defense) registered a 42-31 victory over the Blue (Offense) on Saturday in front of 31,582 at Notre Dame Stadium.
What Atkinson also did, though, was fumble — twice — which caused him to be categorized, along with quarterback Everett Golson, as a guy who can at times make Irish coach Brian Kelly worry if there’s a defibrillator nearby.
“Both of those guys are exciting,” Kelly said, “but they are a heart attack for me.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Atkinson, however, believes he knows what was at the heart of the matter in terms of the boo-boos.
“I think I’m just trying to do things before I actually get there,” he said. “I’ve just got to slow my game down a little bit more and pay attention to details. I plan on eliminating those type of mistakes over the summer and play like a sophomore, not like a freshman.”
Throw out the fumbles and he played like a veteran, particularly in the first half when he amassed 115 of those 124 yards. Atkinson, who also caught three passes for 54 yards, showed the strength-speed combination in the first half when he made lemonade out of lemons after getting hit in the backfield by classmate Ishaq Williams.
Atkinson not only busted out of what looked to be a sure negative-yardage play, but broke loose for a 30-yard gain.
“I was just thinking, do not get stopped in the backfield,” he recalled. “Do whatever it takes not to get stopped.”
According to fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter, there could be no stopping Atkinson. Slaughter, who played sparingly, said Atkinson reminds him a bit of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson in terms of the way he runs.
“Just his style of running is downhill, real physical,” Slaughter said. “If he keeps that up, he’ll be a great player. He has a lot of work to do, just learning. He’s a young guy. But once everything comes together for him, he’ll be great.”
With seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick topping the depth chart, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle entering the fray in the fall, that may not happen this year, although Atkinson’s talent would seem to indicate that he’s much more than a potential answer to a Blue-Gold Game trivia question.
“The difference from last year, I was thinking too much” said Atkinson, who last year carried nine times for 27 yards on top of making his mark on special teams with a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns. “I’m actually starting to learn the plays, where to go. I’m just reacting and playing ball.”