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May 18, 2011When Notre Dame's freshman class arrives on campus in mid-June, the group figures to get lost a few times around campus. For George Atkinson III, finding his way inside the Irish football program might include a change of position.
Instead of sitting down with Tony Alford to talk about the finer points of route running, the four-star athlete from Livermore, Calif., might be breaking down blitz pick up with Tim Hinton.
After being recruited as a wide receiver by Notre Dame for nearly a year, then signing with the Irish as an heir apparent to Michael Floyd, Atkinson will show up in South Bend on June 19 with the very real possibility of being a running back. West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock broke that news to Atkinson during a recent recruiting trip to California.
"I think there's a good possibility I'll move to running back," Atkinson said. "I'm going to be ready for that too. I've been doing some running back drills, change of direction stuff. I'm used to it. I'm more comfortable at running back because I played it in high school.
"I kind of saw this coming with their running back situation."
Atkinson averaged 9.7 yards per carry last season, rushing for 1,669 yards and 17 touchdowns to go with 27 catches for 678 yards and six scores. He admitted that moving to the offensive backfield was a shorter path to playing time in South Bend with Cam Roberson almost certainly out for the year with multiple ligament damage, suffered during spring ball.
That leaves the Irish with two scholarship tailbacks in Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.
"I definitely can't wait to find out what position I'll be playing, what position I'll be competing at," Atkinson said. "I've been conditioning like a receiver, working on getting out of my breaks faster, but I can gain weight for running back too."
Atkinson said he's up to 196 pounds and hopes to hit 205 before he arrives. The former U.S. Army All-American plans to wear No. 4 or No. 8, with his twin brother Josh Atkinson set for No. 43. The pair has been following Paul Longo's strength and conditioning program all off-season, with the past month including 350-yard sprints. The reps started with three 350-yard sprints with a three-minute break between each one. Each sprint had to be completed in 55 seconds. Now the Atkinsons are working on five 350-yard sprints in the same time with the same breaks.
"You need a little bit more of a break I think," Atkinson laughed. "The first time I did the three, I did it, but I was huffing and puffing. I couldn't make the fifth one the first time, my last one was like 56 seconds."
Atkinson said he's kept in touch with teammates in his class, notably Stephon Tuitt. Previews of life as a Notre Dame student-athlete have made it to California from the early enrollees with promises that the academic prestige will test the incoming freshmen, although the gear from the football program is a nice perk.
It's tough for Atkinson to believe his college career is barely a month away and he called it a "dream" to finally be moving on after signing with Notre Dame over offers from USC, Miami, Alabama and Oregon. He doesn't expect that he'll be the last top prospect from California to call South Bend home, with Tee Shepard already in the commitment column and Deontay Greenberry potentially next.
"A year from now everybody's going to want to come," Atkinson said. "Everybody in this class is coming in with that mindset, we're going to go to the BCS or a national championship. If anybody thinks less, they don't need to be out there, you know what I'm saying? That's everybody's goal."