By Kaitlin Long
UGA defensive lineman John Atkins finally made his way to the top of the depth chart for the upcoming season.
Although he had 10 game appearances last season, Atkins will be starting his redshirt sophomore season. Football is an obligation for him that requires daily dedication and that is how he received his starting spot.
“I just come out there every day to go to work,” Atkins said. “It’s kind of like blue-collar work. You know, come to work every day ready to work. You’ve got to earn your spot every day.”
Atkins maximized his offseason by polishing his craft. As a nose tackle, he paid close attention to the fundamentals and details that were essential to shape him into a refined defensive player. He has come a long way with the help of his mom and coaching staff. However, his humble beginnings are routed in Thomson, Georgia where he attended Thomson High School.
Surprisingly, Atkins did not play defense until his senior year of high school. His football career had solely revolved around offensive line, but that did not stop the well-rounded athlete from receiving multiple Division I offers for his defensive performance. His top three offers were Georgia, Auburn, and Georgia Tech.
With all the hype surrounding him out of high school, Atkins was disappointed when he had to make the decision to attend Hargrave Military Academy, a preparatory school in Chatham, Virginia. However, his experience at prep school forced him to focus on his craft.
“Coming out of high school, I kind of got down on myself because I didn’t go right to Georgia,” Atkins said. “I felt like going to prep school – it made me more hungry to be where I wanted to be. It was all guys, so you had to have a goal. You didn’t have any distractions.”
Atkins’ experience at Hargrave Military Academy was short-lived. After only one semester, he enrolled into UGA. Although Auburn and Georgia Tech were also top contenders, those colleges had nowhere near the effect UGA had on Atkins.
“When I first went to UGA, it was family,” Atkins said. “When I first got here, all the coaches knew me, all the players knew of me. When I got here, it was kind of like I had already been here. All the schools were the same, but UGA – like when I first stepped on campus, I was in love.”
Now that Atkins has earned himself a starting position on the UGA depth chart, he has even more of a reason to love his decision. His teammates have become “a band of brothers,” and he is looking forward to contributing to the greater team vision more than accomplishing individual goals.
Team goals come first, according to Atkins, and the hype behind Georgia’s upcoming season has no effect on them as they enter their game opener September 5. Despite the difficult schedule, the Bulldogs are taking it week by week.
“It all comes down to us,” Atkins said. “We have to have tunnel vision. We can’t let clutter get into our head and hype it up like we’re better than what we are. We just have to come out and play. Everyone wants a championship, but the way we’re set up now – we just defeat today.”
The team is prepared to “come out and just play ball and be [themselves],” according to Atkins. With one of the best fan bases in college football, the Dawgs have even more motivation to leave it all out on the field this season.
Atkins has put his life into the game of football and that makes the spot he earned at the top of the depth chart so much sweeter.
“In the position that I’m in right now, every game is exciting,” Atkins said. “I’m going to be able to say I really played my all each game and go out and take it game by game. I can’t look farther down the road because that’s how you get blindsided. You’ve got to play every game like it’s your last game.”