Jake Brown IrishIllustrated.com Recruiting Analyst
If George Atkinson III needs to sleep with a football in his hands this summer, he'll do it.
That's how intent the sophomore running back is on showing the Notre Dame coaching staff he can be trusted with carries after a Blue-Gold Game performance that showed his explosiveness and his youth.
Head coach Brian Kelly put Atkinson and quarterback Everett Golson in the same category.
Atkinson knows he has a lot to work on this summer.
"Both of those guys are exciting, electric players," Kelly said. "But they are a heart attack for me. We've gotta get them there because I think we all see they've got great skill but they are guys that are a work in progress."
Atkinson received extended playing time during the spring game in lieu of feeding upperclassmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick more carries. He delivered explosive plays but a couple mishaps along the way.
He led all rushers with 124 yards on 15 carries and also pitched in three receptions for another 54 yards. The longest run Atkinson registered was 30 yards, the backfield's longest of the day.
"With great players like Cierre and Theo, they're gonna be getting the majority of the carries over the season," Atkinson said. "I knew I was gonna be getting a lot of reps. I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to take advantage and show the coaches what I can do with the ball."
With all the action came a couple mistakes, both self-inflicted.
Twice in the second quarter Atkinson fumbled. Anthony Rabasa recovered the first and Ben Councell the second, which came on a dropped pitch from quarterback Tommy Rees.
Atkinson enters the offseason aware those mistakes could keep him on the bench with fewer carries than expected, especially given the talents of Riddick and Wood.
"I think I'm just trying to do things before I actually get there," Atkinson said. "I've just got to slow my game down a little bit more and pay attention to details like coach is saying. I plan on eliminating those type of mistakes over the summer and play like a sophomore and not a freshman."
Sorting through ball security issues is mostly a matter of repetition in the summer, Atkinson said. Otherwise his talent might not shine through as much during the fall when turnovers will have a bigger impact on the game result.
"Just reps," Atkinson said of how he will attack the issue. "Emphasizing ball security. Emphasizing watching balls all the way into your hands and everything like that. I've got great veterans ahead of me that are gonna teach me and coaches that's gonna let me know what I need to work on. I'm gonna take it all in."
Handling the ball with more care could unlock another option for Notre Dame when it comes to running the ball next season. Five of the 15 carries Atkinson made went for at least 10 yards.
"I thought George Atkinson had a really good day," said Jamoris Slaughter. "He really came into his own. He had a couple turnovers but I think that can get corrected. But the style of running he does and the plays he makes with his athletic ability and speed, he's gonna be a great player."