May 26, 2009

DT Atkins has come a long way

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 Bulldogs to become the player many now consider one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC.

Former Bulldog center Fernando Velasco remembers Atkins' 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 Rivals.com 4-star performer. "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."

These days, Atkins is the one showing the youngsters how to get it done.

"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 has certainly taken notice.

Atkins has earned All-SEC honors in each of the past two seasons and as the Bulldogs begin drifting into town later this week for the start of voluntary workouts, the 6-foot-1, 292-pounder is geared up for his biggest year yet.

Despite a season which saw Atkins deal with constant double-teams, he still managed to collect 34 tackles, including 7.5 for loss.

Head coach Mark Richt certainly believes Atkins to be in for an all-star caliber year.

This spring, Atkins was virtually unblockable, giving Richt plenty of reason for optimism.

"We didn't have anybody who could handle him," Richt said during the spring. "You watch him and he's just so strong. He's also more athletic than people want to give him credit for. 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.' That's when you've got yourself something and Geno has tasted enough success because he's playing hard."

Looking back, Velasco said Atkins probably turned the corner toward the end of his freshman year when the Bulldogs were preparing for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Former center Nick Jones lent a helping hand.

"(Atkins) and (Jones) had some heated battles out there," Velasco said. "He did a 360- or 720-degree turn, he really got better."

Atkins explained how that happened:

"It started during practice and I was messing with Nick Jones, 'I'm going to try and beat you during bowl week,' I kept telling him," Atkins said. "I was just trying to get better and better. I just wanted to get one up on Nick Jones before I left."

Eventually, Atkins did.

"I got by him during pass rush drills. I did a little swim move," he laughed. "It was all good, but at the same time it boosted my confidence up a lot. It showed that I beat a senior and Nick Jones was such a great leader and such a tremendous player. It boosted my confidence tremendously."

Atkins was anything but confident his early weeks with the team.
Although Atkins said he never thought about leaving, it wasn't easy, either.

"It was pretty tough, but I had guys like Jeff (Owens), Kade (Weston) and Coach G (Rodney Garner) were out there encouraging me the whole way," Atkins said. "I just tried to get better as the year went along, but toward the end of camp I felt that I got the whole system down. Every week I tried to get better, and during the bowl week I tried to get better and better."

Now, Atkins is one of the best.

In fact, many thought that Atkins might forgo his senior season to apply for the NFL Draft, before the Florida native put a quick end to that speculation, stating that he always intended to return to Georgia to fulfill a promise to his mother than he would leave Athens with a degree in hand.

"That's what she wanted me to do, that's what I wanted to do," Atkins said when he informed UGASports during his initial announcement.

As far as this fall, Atkins has one goal in mind.

"We just want to get back to playing Georgia defense," Atkins said. "Last year was kind of tough. We know we're better than what we showed."


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