You need speed at cornerback to defend the burners who come off the line of scrimmage in a blur and have the advantage because they know where they’re going and where the football will be.
Josh Atkinson has plenty of speed. As a member of Notre Dame’s indoor and outdoor track team last spring, he ran a 10.39 in the finals of the 100-meter dash at the Big East Outdoor Championships. It was the third fastest time in school history, behind a couple of other familiar names.
Those two names? Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, and Atkinson’s twin, George III. In fact, George was the only freshman football player in the nation last spring to run a faster 100-meter dash time in track competition than Josh.
Speed to play cornerback? Check.
What Atkinson has to do - after competing for playing time at cornerback early in the 2012 season - is fine-tune the fundamentals of the position. Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell nailed down starting spots last season, and freshman Elijah Shumate - who moved from safety to cornerback - saw considerable action as Notre Dame’s nickel back. Josh’s classmate, Jalen Brown, also saw action early in the season at cornerback.
But with three freshmen coming in this summer, including highly-touted Arizona product Cole Luke, Atkinson knows he needs to make a move this spring to keep his name in the running for playing time after participating in all 13 games on special teams as a sophomore and seven as a freshman.
“Just everything,” smiled the good-natured Atkinson when asked what he needs to work on in order to get on the field at cornerback in ‘13. “I don’t want to say I’m just good at this. I really just want to work on my overall game and get more playing time next year. Just being more consistent and just keep working hard. Focus on the little things and fundamentals.”
Atkinson offers praise for the Irish coaching staff, fellow cornerback Bennett Jackson, former Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta, and former captain Manti Te’o for keeping his optimism high.
“They’ve helped me grow as a person and as a player,” Atkinson said. “They’ve helped me get through tough times and helped me get better. Those are people I look up to. They’re definitely leaders.”
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks has tried to get Atkinson to master the technique of the position and not rely so much on his physical gifts. Speed is important. You can’t play cornerback at this level without speed. But when it comes to cornerback play and defending pass receivers, technique reins supreme.
“I watch a lot of film,” Atkinson said. “You can watch every little thing you do and make sure you’re doing it the right way. You watch film and critique yourself.”
Atkinson watches his brother, too. That’s when Josh Atkinson - cornerback and teammate - becomes Josh Atkinson the fan. He insists a sibling rivalry doesn’t exist.
“There are no comparisons when it comes to him,” Atkinson said. “We play different positions. I push for him and he pushes for me. I’m supporting him in everything he does, just the same way he’s supporting me. It’s really just focusing on what I have to do for myself and supporting my brother.”
Regardless what happens over the next two years of Atkinson’s collegiate career, he’ll look back on his Notre Dame experience fondly. Notre Dame has altered his viewpoint on life in a positive way.
“Notre Dame has definitely had a huge impact on me,” Atkinson said. “It’s brightened my horizons by learning in the Catholic culture and getting a great education. It’s helped me build a better character. It’s definitely a great place to be around.”