Now or Never ’13: George Atkinson

George Atkinson - Notre Dame RB
Junior George Atkinson has shown flashes of big play ability throughout his career, but faces a critical year in his development and has some talented underclassmen nipping at his tail. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

Entering his junior year in South Bend, Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III still has a lot to prove, but thankfully for Irish fans he has the talent to do just that. Making an early splash his freshman year by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns, and  being named  honorable mention All-American as a returner by, the son of former Raider great George Atkinson Jr. will look to 2013 as the year he truly makes his mark on the Irish program.

Picking the Irish over such elite programs as Oregon, Alabama, and USC, the speedster out of Livermore, California ran for almost 1700 yards, 17 touchdowns, and had a ridiculous 9.7 yards-per-carry average during his senior season at Granada High School. Atkinson understood that his quickest way to see the field once arriving in South Bend was through special teams, and he was correct as he became a featured returner on kick-offs, and averaged just over 26 yards per return.

Returning kick-offs for the Irish may have been Atkinson’s quickest way to contribute to the Irish football program, but the ultimate goal was to be the featured back with the number one offense. Atkinson would have to exude a certain amount of patience in this category though, as he only carried the ball nine times in his freshman campaign for a grand total of just 27 yards. This wasn’t a surprise though as the Irish backfield was crowded in 2011, which made it even harder for the new kid on the block to have an impact.

As the 2012 season began Atkinson was ready to take on more responsibility, and Brian Kelly seemed to have the same mindset. Although still considered a back-up to Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, Atkinson would see action in 12 games(missed OU game-illness), and ended the year as the 3rd leading rusher with 361 yards on the ground, and was tied for 2nd on the team with 5 rushing touchdowns. The young running back seemed to struggle with making quick decisions with the ball in his hands, and struggled even more in the return game, as he saw his return yards drop by almost 500 yards, and his average by almost 5 yards per return. The truth is that the Irish return teams struggled as a whole though, and we are not sure how much blame can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the sophomore from California.

Now with the graduation of Theo Riddick and the decision by Cierre Wood to opt for the NFL, it would seem that the 2013 starting tailback position is one that is Atkinson’s for the taking. The current stable of back-up running backs the Irish have, which include Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, Will Mahone, Greg Bryant, and Tarean Folston, had a combined 23 carries for 125 yards in 2012. Although this group is extremely talented, it severely lacks experience, and that is why this is truly an opportunity for Atkinson to shine or watch a talented group of back-ups push him out the way, as they battle for meaningful carries throughout the season.

Atkinson will enter this season as the starter, and with the understanding that the Irish offense will look much different than it did just the year before. With the early departure of Cierre Wood, Tyler Eifert being drafted by the Bengals, and the dismissal of 2012 starting quarterback Everett Golson , there will be some familiar faces missing this year, and one’s that contributed quite dramatically in 2012.These changes will only add to the responsibility that Atkinson will assume in the upcoming year, but will also allow him to create his own identity.

Make no mistake, George Atkinson III has the talent to be a great asset in the Irish offense this year, but he will need to adjust his style from last year. Atkinson needs to hit the hole quicker, act and not react, and be more coherent of his surroundings and how the play is unfolding. He often struggled last year with trying to go east and west, rather than north and south, and looked timid in his decision making. These are all problems that many young running-backs are forced to deal with, but the very good to great one’s make those adjustments through the course of their career.

This is Atkinson’s time to shine for the Irish program and their fans, and by no means is he on a short leash, but we are sure he understands what is at stake. Amir Carlisle and Greg Bryant are true threats if Carlisle can stay healthy, and Bryant can acclimate himself to the speed of the college game in an accelerated manor. Barring injury during fall practice, Atkinson will trot onto the field with the first team offense in the home opener against Temple on August 31st, but how long he stays there will be up to him.


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  1. … My point is 3rd&2 runs are as crucial as long runs to a teams success. And GAIII just doesn’t have it yet. He’s closer to a rocket Ismail type runner.

  2. …..I’ll be enjoying popcorn watching GAIII break a few impressive runs. But when it comes down to 3 & 2 in the 4th Q – I’ll take Cam or Mahone. Plus E.Hood could be a factor.

    1. Hey Knucklehead, Elijah Hood wont be on campus until 2014 so I dont see him being much of a factor on 3rd and 2 in 2013. He will be a major factor if and when he arrives.

  3. GA III’s run against Miami last year in Chicago was AWESOME! The other runs of that caliber that I have seen are Pennick in ’73 and Reggie Brooks in LA coliseum ’93? Mind blowing speed and acceleration. Oh yeah…Jonas Gray v. Pitt.

    This guy can take it to the house every carry!

    Go IRISH!!!!!!


    1. Amem Woodrow,

      GAIII is definitely no RB committee clip-board holder this year! “Committees” don’t apply to BK’s “next-man-in” tenet other than injury or mop-up duty when needed!

      The only reason we had RB’s by committee for the last two years was Wood’s out-of-control-ego! So much so last year, BK flexed his CEO skills and threw Wood’s Heisman trophy chances on the bench! BK made sure Wood had the opportunity to watch Riddick become the Star RB!

      No committee made that decision! Hahaha!


  4. Like I said, we’ll see who get’s the most yards and time by years end. However, I will only buy Joey popcorn.

  5. This season should be Running Back by committee. Looking forward to seeing how BK handles this variety of RBs.

    1. Joey, Running Back by committee is the way they have
      operated the last couple of years (Wood/Gray 2011/Riddick/Wood/Atkinson2012) and is the way the best college football teams operate.CF. Bama/Georgia/LSU.

      Several things about Atkinson. First, he made a twin commitment to fotball, both giving up track and making extraordinary improvements, documented by Brian Kelly in the Spring, in both size and strength.
      Second, Kelly clearly designated Carlisle as the slot. This suggests that the RB situation is not as dire as some anticipate. Third, this staff lives and dies by
      player development. Consider Jonas Gray.

      But it will be running back by committee, in 2013 and in years to come.

  6. Sit back and relax and enjoy the GForceIII show! Now watch GForceIII upright the competition. At 218lbs now, and like all growning young men, 220lbs in the fall is certainly attainable. We still need a 230-258lb full back in the equation to blast holes open for GForceIII. If that happens our running game will explode and dominate our competition early.

    As I view it, POWER RUN THE BALL DOMINATION and a VICIOUS SCORING DEFENSE will lead to a National Championship this year. Yeah, that’s right, I said it, THIS YEAR!

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