May 7, 2012, 7:31 PM EDT
For much of the past decade, the Notre Dame football program has been stuck having to answer questions about being too slow. Over the weekend, George and Josh Atkinson offered two data-points to help make that statement obsolete.
The twin brothers, George a 6-foot-1, 215 pound running back, and Josh, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback, put up dazzling numbers at the Big East track meet, just weeks after finishing up spring football practice. Josh placed fourth in the finals with a 10.39 sprint while George finished fifth with a 10.46 run. George also clocked a 10.36 time in his preliminary heat. Each ran races that clocked as the fastest times of any freshman football player in the country, and what measured out to be the fourth and fifth fastest times by any college football player running track.
George Atkinson’s speed was on display during the Blue-Gold Game, when the freshman running back dazzled in the open field as he led the offense in rushing yards. Josh, who surprised many by edging his brother in the finals, shows one of the obvious reasons he’s a leading contender for the field cornerback job, with his elite speed going along with his better than average size at cornerback. (For good measure, Josh also qualified for the 200m final, finishing fifth behind Irish freshman Christopher Giesti, who won with a 21.15 sprint.) Josh will still battle Lo Wood for the starting job, but if he beats Wood out, that’ll give the Irish two gifted sprinters playing cornerback if he’s matched with Bennett Jackson. There’s not a lot of depth yet, but both guys can fly.
While Josh will be tasked with covering receivers, George offers one of the most intriguing offensive talents the Irish have had in quite some time. As the most physical of the Irish running backs, he’s a better fit to bang the ball inside than Cierre Wood or Theo Riddick. Yet he’s also one of the most explosive runners in all of college football, with a sprint time that matches him up with any of the fastest speed merchants in America. That kind of skill-set should give new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin plenty of creativity, and forces you to believe the Irish staff will spend the summer finding ways to get the ball in Atkinson’s hands.
With Chris Brown ready to enroll this summer, the Irish are collecting the kind of speed needed to compete at the top of the college football food chain. Brown, who clocked a 10.51 100m during regional qualifying at Hanahan High School, also had a seven-foot high jump last week, a number that would’ve won the Big East Championship this weekend. (He’s also had a 51-foot, 2-inch triple jump in the past, a leap that would’ve also netted him a Big East title.)
Even if Brown is ready to step on the field and contribute immediately, three speedsters don’t make up for an offensive unit that’s in desperate need of home run threats. But after running two of the fastest times to come out of the South Bend in quite some time, it’s clear that there’s an upturn in the making.