- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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One byproduct of George Atkinson III's early departure from Notre Dame? He's never been this far away from his brother.
"Definitely, and the longest for sure," Atkinson said with a laugh.
But while his twin, Josh, gears up for summer workouts before his final season as a cornerback with the Irish, George has been completing final preparations for this weekend's NFL draft, an event that came a year earlier than expected after an unceremonious end to his collegiate career.
Atkinson said that the physical part of February's NFL combine was the easy part when compared to all of the questions he received from executives wanting to know where things went south for him at Notre Dame, as coach Brian Kelly suspended him from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for an unspecified violation of team rules. (Atkinson had tweeted, and deleted, that he was suspended for texting during a team meal, something he said he had done all season.)
"Of course the bowl game got brought up, why was I suspended, why am I leaving early, typical questions for people leaving early," Atkinson said of questions executives asked him. "But I just handled it how I'd handle it if anybody else asked me the question: Just stayed true to myself and true to the situation and took responsibility for my actions, and that's the basics my dad raised me on."
Atkinson's dad, former Oakland Raiders defensive back and current broadcaster George Atkinson, has been an invaluable resource during this time, with the son living back at home in the Bay Area this spring while training at California Strength in San Ramon.
"It's definitely a blessing, but then again when [my father] came out I don't think they even had the combine," Atkinson quipped about an event that started in 1982, three years after his father's final year in the NFL. "But he's been in the league for many years, so he knows what to expect. It's kind of like boot camp, [with him] making sure my bed's made and everything just to make sure I'm staying disciplined and things like that, what it takes to be successful at the next level. But it's been a blessing to have him guiding me throughout his whole situation."
Ironically enough, Atkinson says his mom pushed him and his brother toward football when they were growing up more than his father did. His career at Notre Dame got off to a roaring start, with the part-time track star returning a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns during his freshman season in 2011. From there, the man with 4.48 speed had an uneven next two years, showing flashes of promise as the third-string running back during the Irish's 12-1 2012 campaign (361 yards, three touchdowns) before stagnating when given the No. 1 role (555 yards, three touchdowns in 2013).
Still, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound speedster's big-play capability, especially on special teams, gives him a chance to be a late-round pick, and he insists he has no regrets on his time spent in South Bend.
"It was definitely a good experience, for sure. I don't take it for granted at all," Atkinson said. "I don't regret going there. I loved my three years there -- my teammates and my brother and the coaching staff and all that. It's definitely something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life. I was really grateful for the opportunity that I had there, and I'm planning on finishing my degree in the near future for sure, so it was a great time."