50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Atkins Stays The Course

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Virginia football junior running back Lamont Atkins seeks to do all he can to help the Cavaliers be successful in 2019. ~ Photo courtesy of Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Student athletes with the character and humble nature of junior running back Lamont Atkins are vital to head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s quest to lay a strong foundation for this Virginia football program to build on in the years to come. Atkins, one of the more heralded recruits in Mendenhall’s first full recruiting class as Cavalier head coach, doesn’t complain about playing time or carries or catches. Instead, he works, and as an upperclassman he sets the example for new players to follow.

Atkins, who is looking to help UVA take another step forward in 2019, is the subject of this latest “50 Thoughts” piece.

15 – Lamont Atkins Stays The Course

There is one saying within the Virginia football program that particularly sticks with Lamont Atkins.

“The more you can do the more valuable you are,” said the third year running back, who attributed the quote to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “I pride myself on that.”

Atkins is doing his part off the field, as evidenced by the fact that he earned the right to take part in the first round of jersey selections earlier this month (he picked no. 5). In preparing for his role on the field in 2019, Atkins’ focus has been on “being able to expand my skills and being able to do a whole lot of things. That gives me more opportunity to get in and make a difference.”

While he has played in all 26 games in his first two seasons in Charlottesville, his opportunities on offense have been limited. Atkins has five career carries, including four for 33 yards last season, and has two catches for 12 yards. In 2019, though, Virginia has to replace its leading rusher, Jordan Ellis, and its leading receiver, Olamide Zaccheaus, opening the door for Atkins, who is a “speed back” in Robert Anae’s offense. That is, he’s seen as someone who can contribute in a variety of ways as a rusher and receiver.

“I feel like my expectations are just to increase my role and do everything I can to help the team,” Atkins said. “We have a lot of good guys on offense and we’re all going to work very hard to make an impact on the field.”

Don’t forget that Atkins came to Virginia in January of 2017 as Burke (VA) Lake Braddock High School’s all-time leading rusher with 3,656 yards. Almost 2,000 of those yards came in his final season with the Bruins. He would earn 2016 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year as a testament to his performance on and off the field his senior year.

“I came in here early, so it feels like I’ve been here forever, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Atkins said. “I’ve had a lot of fun here and I’ve been taking it one step at a time. It’s been the best three years of my life.”

Atkins was first-team all-state running back and linebacker in his final year of high school, totaling 61 tackles on defense as a senior, so he entered UVA having demonstrated skills on the defensive side of the ball as well. I for one wouldn’t have surprised to see Atkins move to safety in college because of the speed and tackling ability he showed on the high school level. While that move probably won’t come to fruition, the 5’10”, 205-pound junior’s defensive attributes can be of very good use on special teams, where he has tallied nine tackles in two seasons.

“Special teams, this past season I was on all four and this year I’m on three of them,” said Atkins, who will be on the kickoff, punt return and punt coverage units in 2019. “There is a real big emphasis on special teams because that’s a real big factor in determining who wins the game. Coach Atuaia, he wants everyone in the running back room to be on the field for special teams, so we take a real big pride in that and we just go as hard as we can.”

I’m sure Atkins would love to see an expanded role on offense. However, the team-first attitude Atkins displays is just as important for this growing UVA program.

“[Leadership] is something I try to step up,” Atkins said. “We talk about everyone emerging as leaders, so everyone takes that initiative to be a leader. Our coaches do a really good job of bringing in the right guys and protecting our cart. Every guy we bring in, they just embody what UVA football is, so every time we bring someone in, it’s not that hard to instill that culture on them.”

Atkins has enjoyed his time in Charlottesville, especially alongside his fellow running backs, who have become close-knit under the guidance of a dynamic yet caring running backs coach in Mark Atuaia.

“I had no idea before that it was going to be this way,” Atkins said. “Literally the other day, all the running backs, we texted his wife, Mrs. Liz, because it was her birthday. We sang her happy birthday. We’re friends with all the kids. We’re over his house all the time. We’re all really close. It is a family.”

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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