THOMSON - At 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, John Atkins is a mountain of a young man who harbors big goals. He's dreaming big, hoping to go just as far as his athletic gifts can take him.
But unlike most youngsters who annually become part of the college football recruiting madness, Atkins is responsible for carrying a banner that no one in his family has yet been able to bear.
The youngest of five children (he has four older sisters), not only will only will Atkins be the first of his immediate family to graduate from high school, but he's on track to become the first of his entire clan to attend college at all.
He knows he can't let them down.
"My sisters all went to the ninth grade but ended up dropping out," Atkins said. "Once I got past the ninth grade, my mom told me 'don't give up, you're almost there. You're going to be the first.'"
It's a responsibility he's not taking lightly.
"I can't let them down," he said. "There are a lot of people depending on me. I've got to make them proud."
Atkins credits his mother for instilling that "want-to" he believes will allow him to accomplish his family's goals.
"She always told me when the going gets tough, and it gets hard, to just stick with it," Atkins said. "I remember in my ninth grade year, I wasn't doing real well in school, but I made it through. Then, in my 10th grade year, I started to realize that with my size, maybe I could go play college ball somewhere, do something to make my family proud."
Exactly where Atkins' eventual college path will lead remains to be seen.
Compared to most rising seniors, Atkins is a relative late-bloomer on the college football scene, but after reviewing tapes of his junior campaign, schools quickly started to become interested in the young defensive tackle.
In the past couple of months, schools like Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and UMass have offered and stand as the four he has so far.
Expect more to come.
Alabama, Auburn and Florida have also shown considerable interest, with Atkins saying he plans on visiting each of those schools once Thomson High is done with the state soccer playoffs (Thomson lost to Cairo 4-0 Thursday).
No, you don't see many 300-pound soccer players out there, but he can make for an imposing figure at goal, the position that Atkins plays.
"I had some friends who asked me to come out and I found out I liked it pretty good," said Atkins. "It helps me with my quickness, my lateral movement, my conditioning. It's helped out a lot."
Atkins laughed that it's a bit strange having college coaches watch him at soccer practice, which was the case Wednesday afternoon.
"It's kind of funny," Atkins said. "People are always surprised that I play soccer."
But while soccer is fun, football will always be Atkins' passion - and he hopes - his ticket to a better opportunity down the road.
"Everybody tells me I need to get out of Thomson, 'Get out of Thomson' they tell me," he said. "But whatever happens, happens."
Atkins said he's keeping his options wide open.
Although he's been very impressed with his two visits to Georgia, including one to see the Bulldogs' recent G-Day game, Atkins said he's going to take his time to make sure he makes the right choice.
Along with upcoming trips to Alabama, Auburn and Florida, Atkins said he plans on making another visit to Athens in the coming weeks to meet with UGA's academic representatives.
He hopes to become an athletic trainer.
Of course, Atkins hopes football will open even bigger doors further down the road.
"I like Georgia a lot. I like their academics, and just how they showed me the life of being a Bulldog," he said. "But I still want to wait it out, because I do not want to just jump on the first offers. I need to get over to Alabama, because Coach (Kirby) Smart and I need to talk."
Meanwhile, Atkins said he will keep focusing hard on his schoolwork, and listen to what the coaches from the various schools recruiting him have to say before coming to some kind of conclusion.
"I just want to make my mom proud," Atkins said. "I want to make everyone proud."
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