November 14, 2007

Atkins making waves in Athens

Georgia's Geno Atkins is living proof that first impressions aren't everything.

If they were, he might not have ever gotten on the field for the 8th-ranked Bulldogs.

Center Fernando Velasco remembers the defensive tackle's initial time in Athens well. He wasn't impressed.

"When he first got here, he was one guy who was just so lazy. There was no work ethic at all," Velasco said. "You could tell he had ability, but with that work attitude, I never thought he'd every play a down at Georgia."

Atkins admitted that Velasco was 100 percent correct.

"It was a rough transition from high school to college," said Atkins, a former 4-star performer from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High. "The conditioning, the weight room lifting, getting down the whole Georgia system, it was all very tough for me to get used too at first."

But that was then.

Slowly but surely, Atkins began to get the hang of what coaches expected of him. These days, the 6-1, 275-pound sophomore has established himself as one of Georgia's top defensive linemen.

Velasco has certainly changed his tune.

"He's really proved a lot of people wrong," Velasco said. "He's strong and very quick off the ball. He's one of the better defensive tackles, not only on this team, but in the SEC."

The league is definitely taking notice.

In this week's SEC notes package, Atkins is one of 11 defensive tackles (teammate Jeff Owens, included) listed as a possible post-season honors candidate.

With good reason.

In only his second career start, Atkins tallied a career-high and team-leading eight tackles in Georgia's win over Vanderbilt. Last week against Auburn, Atkins had three tackles and a sack against Tiger quarterback Brandon Cox.

Georgia coach Mark Richt has certainly liked what he's seen.

"I saw him start to make progress in the spring, and then into the fall. You watch him and he's just so strong. He's also more athletic than people want to give him credit for," Richt said. "But it's like anything else; when you add energy to that, you've got a guy whose attitude it is 'I'm going to play hard every play.' Then you've got yourself something and Geno has tasted enough success because he's playing hard."

Atkins' penchant for big-plays has not gone unnoticed, either.

According to Richt, the young star has gotten so adept at wreaking havoc in the backfield of opponents, that sometimes the Bulldog head coach takes pause to see what might happen next.

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