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West Hall tight end Atkinson signs with Georgia

Spartan switches commitment from Cincinnati after late offer from Bulldogs

POSTED: February 6, 2014 12:36 a.m.

Hunter Atkinson always wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog. But when the time came for the West Hall tight end to decide on his college football playing future, the Bulldogs didn’t have a spot for him.

At least, not until Tuesday night.

Just hours before Atkinson was set to sign with the University of Cincinnati, Georgia coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo officially offered the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Atkinson, who gladly accepted the offer to play between the hedges in Athens.

“It’s been really chaotic, but it’s great,” Atkinson said. “It is exactly what I was looking for, with it being a life dream of mine to play at UGA. I was scared they wouldn’t come through, but I was always hoping. I couldn’t get my hopes up too high, but it all pulled through.”

West Hall coach Tony Lotti said the first call from Georgia came in around 5:30 Tuesday afternoon. Bobo was on the other line with an official offer for Atkinson. Richt followed up with a phone call, but the All-State tight end was with West Hall basketball team for a game against Buford.

“(Bobo) told me they had freed up a spot and that started the process,” Lotti said. “I went over there (to Buford) and talked with (Hunter’s) mom and so I sat in the stands and briefed her about the whole thing.

“As we sat in the stands, coach Bobo called again and then coach Richt called. After the game, I let his mom tell him what was going on and see what he wanted to do.”

What Atkinson wanted to do was become a Bulldog. So he called Richt back and told the Georgia head coach the good news, while also getting some reinsurance that the Bulldogs were always interested in him, despite the last-minute offer.

“He wanted to let me know they’ve always been looking at me and I’m not there to just fill a last spot,” Atkinson said. “It’s just that I came into the game late and they already had offers out and they wanted to stand by those offers.”

Atkinson wasn’t on Georgia’s radar until his junior season, when he made the switch from defensive end to tight end. With his height, quick feet and good hands, Atkinson quickly became a promising recruit for multiple schools.

That intensified following his senior season, when he hauled in 43 passes for 588 yards with 10 touchdowns in the regular season and was named First Team All-State by the Georgia Sportswriters Association.

He finished the entire recruiting process with more than 20 offers from a wide-variety of schools, including Cincinnati and Purdue.

Atkinson said the hard work he put in on the practice field with Lotti was a major component to his success and reason he got so many offers. Now he’s heading to Georgia to work under tight end coach John Lilly, who is known for developing tight ends into productive members of Georgia’s offense.

“Coming from defensive end to tight end, there were just a lot of days where me and Coach Lotti would sit down, one-on-one,” Atkinson said. “Every practice I would work with him. We’d have a drill and he taught me everything. There is a still a lot to learn and get better at.”

Lotti doesn’t see any reason why Atkinson won’t continue to grow and excel in Athens under the guidance of Lilly.

“Coach Bobo said he is going to get an opportunity,” Lotti said. “I think when they get him there and they start working with him, they’re going to be very excited he stayed. That was the one thing about Hunter, he got better every week, and I think his best football is way out in front of him.”

Among those former tight ends that had ample success at Georgia was former West Hall product Martrez Milner, who played for the Bulldogs from 2003-2007 and was later selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Atkinson said his family is close to Milner, and he considers the former Falcon a source for advice.

“Coming from being a big fan (of Georgia) and a couple of years ago, Martrez Milner coming out of West Hall and went to UGA, that gave me a lot of hope to just follow in his shoes,” Atkinson said.

“We really haven’t sat down and talked football. He really just talks more about life. I mean, Martrez has always been there. He’s always been there to teach me.”

After committing to Georgia on Tuesday night, Atkinson said he and Lotti each called the coaches at Cincinnati to inform them of his decision to play for the Bulldogs.

Then came the moment to sign his letter of intent Wednesday morning, a decision that shocked many of his West Hall classmates.

“They were glad I was staying, but no one saw it coming,” Atkinson said. “They were shocked but they were happy for me. It was a lot of congratulations.”

Growing up a Georgia fan, Atkinson said he couldn’t remember how many games he has seen inside Sanford Stadium. Now he will get the opportunity to play on the field for the Bulldogs, despite never having taken an official visit during the recruiting process.

In fact, Atkinson said the only time he was shown around the Bulldogs’ facilities was during a camp his sophomore year at West Hall. He says he plans on taking a visit to Georgia in a few weeks.

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