Twins make own choices -- and pick ND

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
11:33
AM CT
George Atkinson III walked out of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s office and was immediately met by his twin brother Josh.

George felt good. He just committed to Notre Dame and was excited to share the news. When he did, instead of a congratulatory hug, Josh acted in disbelief.

“I can’t believe you committed,” Josh said angrily. “I thought we were going to wait.”

The guilt sank in immediately. They had said that, but before George could defend himself, Josh burst into laughter. He couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“I committed too,” Josh said with a smile.

That’s twins for you.

[+] EnlargeAtkinson
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireGeorge Atkinson was a defensive back and kick returner for the Oakland Raiders for most of his 11 NFL seasons.
Despite having countless in-depth conversations about their recruitment and agreeing not to make their final choices until they made all their official visits, George and Josh walked into Kelly’s office within minutes of each other on a Sunday afternoon in September and committed to the Irish during their first official visit without discussing it with the other.

“Twins have that mental telepathy I guess,” George said on Tuesday. “We just decided. I guess. It just worked out that way. We both found the same thing in Notre Dame.”

They saw a Notre Dame program on the rise under Kelly and envisioned their abilities fitting in perfectly with what the Irish were looking for.

Josh, a 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback, is the younger of the twins by a minute. He’s left-handed, does his best schoolwork in English class and loves to talk. With Josh’s combination of size and speed -- he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds -- wide receivers in the East Bay Athletic League in California had trouble catching many balls against him during his senior season at Granada. He’s the 22nd-ranked cornerback by ESPN Recruiting.

“He’s definitely more of a defensive guy,” said Granada coach Tim Silva. “His position is more set in stone. He’s going to be a corner. He’s a sub-4.5 guy, big for a corner. That’s a good luxury to have.”

George is right-handed, excels at math and is the quieter of the two. On the field, he’s the offensive playmaker. He's 6-2, 195, can run the 40 in 4.4 and is interchangeable between running back and wide receiver. He’s the 40th-ranked athlete by ESPN.

“Oh, God, 6-2, 195, 4.4 -- that separates you,” Silva said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if [Notre Dame] used him like we did in terms of trying to get the ball to him in as many different ways possible to create as many mismatches as possible. Obviously, he can score any time he touches it.”

Where George will play at Notre Dame is something he and Kelly have discussed on numerous occasions. George has been told they will figure it out when he arrives on campus, and he’s fine with either running back or wide receiver as long as he has the ball in his hands.

Josh and George have both been that way since they were both kids. If they’re playing football, then they’re happy. The Atkinsons’ passion and skill isn’t hard to trace.

Their father, George Atkinson II, who was nicknamed "Butch" in his day, was a defensive back and kick returner for the Oakland Raiders for most of his 11 NFL seasons and was a part of the Raiders’ Super Bowl championship in 1977. George II introduced his sons to football at an early age -- Josh swears he can remember being handed a football in his crib -- and they both embraced it from the start.

“I remember sleeping in my room and him calling me to go into his bedroom because he wanted me to see a play,” Josh said. “It was all the time. We loved it. We didn’t want to play any other sport. Our dad, he raised us to make sure we wanted it more than him. Growing up, it’s something we wanted not because he wanted it.

“To this day, we still go out to Granada High and use the field and practice all the time and just work to get better. He’s always teaching us fundamentals. He’s just a good coach, a good father, a friend that’s been there. I’m blessed to have him in my life.”

George II also is one who enjoys competition. If the twins are at home playing a video game, competing in a sport or just doing anything where they can be pitted against each other, George II never misses an opportunity to up the ante by picking a side.

“There’s some trash-talking going on with it,” George III said. “Dad isn’t a help with that. He gets in the mix, and it’s two against one. It’s never a fair fight with us, but it’s all fun and love.”

Added Josh: “Whatever it is, we’re always competing. I don’t care if it’s Wii and we’re playing tennis. We always push each other. Our dad will be like, ‘Oh come on Josh, whip up on him. Come on George, you can get him.’”

George III’s and Josh’s battles do get heated at times, especially when it comes during football practice. When they line up against each other, there’s more than the ball on the line. Bragging rights can travel home and last at least a day with them.

So who wins? It depends on whom you ask.

“I burn him all the time, but don’t ask my brother, though,” George said.

Josh was asked, and his response had its differences.

“Oh, no,” Josh said, laughing. “I shut him down all the time. He likes to think he does. I know his every move.”

Josh wasn’t done dogging his brother, either.

“Sometimes he gets lonely and sometimes I let him get one of my girls,” Josh said, laughing even harder. “He has no game. I try to help him out sometimes. I try to help him with his dance moves.”

As intense as the brothers can get, the competitions never step over the line. They’ve been known to raise their voices at each other on occasion, but in their 18 years, neither has ever thrown a punch at the other.

“We love each other too much,” Josh said.

It’s the same reason they’ve never been the jealous types. Neither cared when Oregon State and Utah were after Josh harder, or Alabama and USC sought only George.

“We’re proud of each other,” George said. “We root for each other. We’ve been together for so long. It’s nothing like that. Since birth, we know it’s each other. We’re like the same person. If I do something great, it’s like he did it, too.”

It’s ultimately why they both were happy when they each chose Notre Dame. They attacked recruiting as individuals and just happened to come to the same conclusion.

“Honestly, through the whole recruiting process, I thought we would end up somewhere different,” Josh said. “I’m thankful Notre Dame came through, and we ended up at the same spot.”

Added George: “We still have that brotherly love and stick together. It’s just happened we’re going to stick together, and that’s a good thing as well. Who better to go through things than with your twin?”


Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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