- Radi Nabulsi, Reporter, DawgNation
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THOMSON, Ga. -- When John Atkins shows up in Athens to play for the University of Georgia, his arrival is likely to spark a good-natured argument among the Bulldogs coaching staff.
"When Big John gets up there, the offensive and defensive coordinators are going to fight over him since he is so athletic," said Thomson (Ga.) High School assistant coach Lee Hutto.
It is that same athleticism that was cited when Atkins was presented with an honorary game jersey by the American Family Insurance Selection Tour for the Under Armour All-America Game. Atkins was chosen to participate in the game that will be played Jan. 5 at Tropicana field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and shown on ESPN.
Hutto knows of what he speaks, since the same thing happened when he and head coach Milan Turner took over the Thomson High School program this year.
"When we showed up, John was playing tight end," Hutto said. "He was dragging over the middle and making catches over his shoulder. We took one look at him and said we have to get him on defense. This was his first year and he did an amazing job controlling the A-gaps and dominating the middle. He also played offensive line. People don't realize how quick he is for a 300-pound man. He has incredible footwork. He could play either side of the ball at the next level."
Atkins is set to sign with Georgia as a defensive tackle, but that may not be where he plays in the future.
"He may be a better offensive lineman than a defensive lineman," Turner said. "He has such great technique. He will make him a million in the NFL because of that. Georgia is recruiting him as a nose tackle but I believe when he gets there, the offensive line coach is going to be drooling over him."
As for Atkins, he doesn't care where he plays.
"I don't have a preference," Atkins said. "If Georgia is full on the defensive line, I will play offensive guard. I am raw on defense but in Athens they will coach me up. I get double-teamed on almost every play. One man can't block me so they are going to have to have two."
If he does stay on the defensive line, Turner thinks he will remind Georgia fans of a very familiar face currently on the Bulldogs' roster.
"He reminds me a lot of Abry Jones," Turner said. "He plays a lot like him. He is bigger than DeAngleo Tyson was coming out of high school. He has that kind of athleticism, if not more than those two guys."
When asked what the Under Armour All-America Game is getting in Atkins, Turner responded that the 6-foot-4 tackle is more than what he seems.
"His ability to make a big play at any moment is what sets him apart," Turner said. "He is very athletic. He doesn't look 300 pounds. I had a coach who saw him for the first time this week and I asked 'How much do you think he weighs?' He said '250 or 260.' I said 'He is 305 pounds.' You would never know it to look at him."
Nor would anyone peg him as a soccer player, but that is indeed what the big lineman does in the spring, playing goalie for the Bulldogs soccer team.
"It goes back to his athleticism," Turner said. "He moves so well laterally. If you can get a big space-eater that moves like that, that is perfect for soccer. When we got here he was a punter, too. We let him punt in a varsity game. He also wanted to get back there and try kick return. We let him in practice but I never had the guts to let him do it in a game."
Atkins was all smiles after the jersey presentation, receiving congratulations from his football and basketball teammates.
"It feels great to get an Under Armour jersey," Atkins said. "Not a lot of kids get one; it is a big honor."
Atkins will be the first member of his immediate family to graduate from high school and subsequently the first one in his extended family to go to college. His mother and four older sisters are very proud of him.
"My family was very excited that I was going on to bigger and better things," Atkins said.
The Under Armour All-America game is likely the first of many bigger things for Atkins.
Radi Nabulsi covers University of Georgia athletics for DawgNation. He can be reached at RadiNabulsiESPN@gmail.com.