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October 7, 2010

Atkinson earns Army All-American honor

ARMY AA BOWL: Army All-American selection tour

LIVERMORE, Calif. - Sibling rivalry can run pretty deep. Especially when it comes to twins. But the only thing that matched the brightness of the northern California sun beaming down on the Livermore (Calif.) Granada High quad on Wednesday morning was the smile of Josh Atkinson, who looked on with pride as his brother - and fellow Notre Dame commit - George Atkinson III was named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

"I'm definitely looking forward to being there, telling him what he's doing wrong, coach him up a little," smiled Josh, clearly a brother to the end. "I'm going to root for him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him play. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm proud of him. We've always worked up to this, to college, and after this, we've just got to get ready for Notre Dame. I'm so proud of him."

On Jan. 8 in San Antonio, Texas, George will take the field for the first time without Josh by his side.

"We support each other in everything, we have 100 percent support for each other," George said. "There's no jealousy, nothing like that."

George is the first Matadors football player to be named to the game, and as he pulled off his black and gold Granada jersey in favor of a black, gold and white West team jersey, his entire school looked on as the band played and the cheerleaders danced.

"There was a lot of emotion; it's definitely a dream come true," George said. "To have this happen, I just feel really blessed and thankful."

Head coach Tim Silva was on the dais, and watched with not a small amount of pride as Staff Sergeant Efraim Guzman presented George with the jersey, alongside Sergeant First Class John Vega, Staff Sergeant David Garcia and Captain Mike Pope.

"I'm just excited for him, and everything he gets is well deserved," Silva said. "He's been a quality young man for four years, and I'm not surprised with any of the accolades he gets, and this one is very special, obviously."

The honor has special meaning for George, whose big brother Jared is a Master Sergeant in the Army.

"I called him and told him, and he's going to be out there for the game," George said. "It means a lot to both of us."

The four-star athlete and his brother will both be playing for the Fighting Irish next fall, and have played alongside one another their whole lives.

"I actually didn't know that he committed first," George smiled. "I didn't even know he did, so I walked in to the coach's office, and we talked, and right then I decided to commit. He beat me to get there."

George has watched the annual All-American showcase religiously for as long as he can remember, stretching back to the first contest in 2001.

"I've watched Adrian Peterson, Vince Young, Reggie Bush," George said. "I've seen all those guys in the game, and last year and the year before that."

When he flies out to San Antonio for the game, it will be the first time that George has ever visited the Lone Star State, save for a layover in Houston, but he will have the benefit of seeing plenty of familiar faces.

"De'Anthony Thomas, we became friends when Cal had their junior day," George said. "He's in there, (Irish commit) Stephon Tuitt, he's in there. We met at Notre Dame."

The fact that George is the first ever selection from Granada is a huge source of pride for both him and Silva.

"It means a lot to represent my school at this bowl game," George said. "Hopefully, I do well and represent well."

Silva has coached football for 20 years-the last four at the helm of the Matadors-and said that getting to coach both Atkinson brothers is one of the greatest pleasures he's experienced in his lengthy career.

"I think it's huge for kids, that they can see that they can go to Granada High School and garner that attention by going to Granada," Silva said. "It's very good for our program.

"The biggest pleasure you get is not only are they outstanding athletes, but they're quality kids. They're easy to coach. To be that good, and be that easy to coach, it's been outstanding. They make us look smart."

George has been an all-around force for the Matadors, playing the left-half running back in Granada's double wing offense, splitting out to the slot receiver and playing a crucial role in the offset-I-formation. So far this season, the Matadors are undefeated, with George pacing the rushing attack-395 yards and four TDs on 28 carries-and the passing game, catching seven passes for a team-high 207 yards and two TDs.

He's also been a stud defender for undefeated Granada, making four tackles and defending three passes this year. He's also returned one punt for 35 yards and four kickoffs for 89 total yards.

When he gets to South Bend, George will continue to utilize his versatility, playing both wide receiver and running back.

"They want me to play receiver, and they said that they'll also put me in the backfield, as well," George said.

Josh-who excels as a lock-down press-corner-will come in at cornerback for the Irish.

"It's going to be a little weird," George said, of not having his brother by his side on the Alamodome field. "He'll be there the whole week, and hopefully he can be there to talk to, and stuff like that. I'm sure I'll do fine with his support."

George will be the latest in a long line of Notre Dame standouts that have participated in the annual all-star game, a legacy that includes US Army Player of the Year Award-winner Jimmy Clausen and Doc Blanchard Award-winner Jonas Gray.

"I'm glad to just be a part of the Irish in the Army Game," George said. "It's cool."

Having two players from his team going to Notre Dame is a big boost for the program, and for Silva, who will accompany George and take part in the US Army Coaches Academy, a three-day conference featuring NFL and NCAA coaches.

"I'm just happy for them," Silva said. "For me, personally, I just want the best for all our kids, and for them to be able to do that and to have that opportunity, I'm just very happy for them.

"It was a nice thing to see them as freshmen and say, 'Oh boy, that's something special,' and they've lived up to all the expectations."



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