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Speed in context: How fast are the Atkinsons?

May 8, 2012, 1:58 PM EDT

Atkinson Jackson track

With their performances in the 100m over the weekend proof that George and Josh Atkinson are fast, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the question, “How fast are they?” The answer, as it turns out, is really, really fast.

From a Notre Dame perspective, the brothers Atkinson are historically fast. Since Irish Track & Field have been running the 100-meter dash, only one person has ever run a faster time than the sprints both brothers recorded: Raghib Ismail.*

That’s 5-foot-10, 175-pound, two-time first-team All-American, Rocket Ismail, who clocked a personal best 10.34 100m dash in a meet his junior year. One of the most explosive kick returners and wide receivers in Notre Dame (you can argue college football) history, clocking a time that’s only a blink of an eye faster than George or Josh. Two freshman that literally didn’t practice before picking up the outdoor season in progress, instead focusing on spring drills with the football team.

The US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association tracks the best times run by college football players in the country, and the Atkinson brothers clock in with the 5th and 6th fastest times in the country.

Top 100m Times for College Football Players

Jeff Demps, Sr. Florida — 10.01
Brent Lee, Jr. Jackson State — 10.25
Marquise Goodwin, Jr. Texas — 10.32
Isaiah Sweeney, Sr. Houston — 10.35
George Atkinson III, Fr. Notre Dame — 10.36
Josh Atkinson, Fr. Notre Dame — 10.39
Jeremy Tillman, Sr. Florida A&M — 10.39

To help put the speed into context, here are the heights, weights, and positions of the sprinters listed above.

Jeff Demps, RB: 5-foot-7, 190 lbs.
Brent Lee, RB: 5-foot-7, 185 lbs.
Isaiah Sweeney, WR: 5-foot-10, 175 lbs.
George Atkinson, RB: 6-foot-1, 215 lbs.
Josh Atkinson, CB: 5-foot-11, 185 lbs.
Jeremy Tillman, WR: 5-foot-11, 185 lbs.

It’s pretty clear that George (and to a certain extent, Josh as well) is an outlier in this group, with his powerful frame and size far from an asset in the sprint world. (He’s carrying at least 25 pounds more than the next guy.) Also working against the twins is the fact that they’re freshmen, still physically developing and learning the intricacies of collegiate sprinting. (There are only two other freshmen in the top 25 sprint times by college football players. Thurgood Dennis, a D-III reserve DB chipped in four tackles on defense while returning 13 kickoffs while focusing on track. Angelo Cabrera is a redshirt freshman that carried the ball only six times for 18 yards at Bethune-Cookman.)

With George and Josh both likely playing impact roles on the gridiron next season, we’ll likely never get a real read on what their track ceilings could be. But it’s rather astonishing to think that after 15 spring practices, and basically zero block work (one of the keys to running fast times in competition), both brothers went out and ran historic times, waking up the echoes of The Rocket, and dusting every other Irish football great in their first year sprinting.

*The top sprinter in Notre Dame history, All-American Bill Hurd, competed in the 100 yard dash. His 9.3 time would translate to a 10.2 100 meter run.

  1. irishsportstalk - May 8, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Thanks for doing all this digging Mr. Arnold. Very interesting info.

    • glowplugv - May 8, 2012 at 8:59 PM

      I was at ND when Bill Hurd was there. We (Fencing Team) used to run laps on the old Cartier cinder track and ocassionally the track team was there. When you heard, “track,” you knew to get out of the inner lanes or have a runner run his spikes up your back! One day I was on the track and heard “track” shouted, I pulled out in one of the turns and saw Bill Hurd run by and as he came out of the turn he turned on the jets. It was a thing of beauty! Smooth, powerful, effortless acceleration. I looked down and all I saw on in the cinder was three tiny holes from his front spikes. Just awesome. I believe he was one race from making the Olympics and pulled a hamstring in the race. Does anyone know/remember the details?

  2. bernhtp - May 8, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Notre Dame yet again won the Big East Track and Field Championship. The Atkinsons are in very good company.

    I wonder how Ronald Darby will do next year given that one of the big reasons for decommitting from Notre Dame was FSU’s superior track program.

    Keith: great article. Kelly appears to be stepping up the athletic caliber in his recruiting. I believe that Kelly is taking Notre Dame in the right direction. While the horrific schedule will make high numbers of wins extremely difficult, I still remain very optimistic with the program in his hands.

    • nudeman - May 8, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      Don’t you think that Darby’s track excuse was BS?

      He was just another guy like Goat’s boy Tee who felt ND wasn’t “cool” enough for him and his peeps and didn’t like the idea of working hard in the classroom.

      • bernhtp - May 8, 2012 at 6:45 PM

        I do think Darby’s track excuse was mostly BS – a bit obvious in my tone. I don’t know if he was as unqualified for ND as Shepard, but for whatever reason, the elite-speed corners rarely seem to fit the ND profile.

      • nudeman - May 8, 2012 at 6:56 PM

        I know the reason the elite speed corners aren’t right for ND, but won’t (can’t) share it here

      • dmac4real - May 8, 2012 at 9:17 PM

        Nude: Tee had a heart condition. Just let it go, my gosh.

      • bernhtp - May 8, 2012 at 9:22 PM

        Re: “Tee had a heart condition”

        You really believe that was the reason? Seriously?

      • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 11:17 AM

        The only heart condition Tee had was his heart wasn’t in to attending class
        If he truly had a heart condition (the medical type) why would he leave ND and go to Fresno for treatment on his own dime? Fresno. We’re talking FRESNO

        He’s already looking at other football programs. UW, Houston, USC
        So that’s either a miraculous recovery or he was lying.
        I’ll take option 2, there.

        Good riddance

      • domer77blowsgoats - May 9, 2012 at 11:27 AM

        Ah, another post by nude where he just can’t seem to stop referencing the goat

        and if you are going to quote me, at least get it right – never once did I say Tee was “my boy”

        In fact, both Darby’s and Tee’s non-committal hypocritc traits remind me of someone else….

        must be something in that AZ gym shower water….

        • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 11:34 AM

          Goat, admit it. You LOVE Tee and cousin Deontay. I’ll bet you bought the Houston season tix pkg.

          GO-O-O COUGARS!!!

  3. herringbonesports - May 8, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    I thought I’d mention because it’s rather surprising and hilarious all at once.

    Let me make sure you all know that I only know this because I interviewed him for Notre Dame purposes, but if you didn’t know author Nicholas Sparks (88′) is a record holder in track & field at ND. His freshman year he was part of the 3200m relay team who’s number still stands. He also supports a few club teams in NC.

    Here is the photo tweeted at Keith showing the record at ND, highlighted for easy viewing:!/HB_Sports/status/199930018225336321

    Yes, THAT Nicholas Sparks of “The Notebook” & “The Lucky One” fame. To his credit he started the interview with “Yes – I’m class of 1988, the year of Tim Brown.”

    • herringbonesports - May 8, 2012 at 2:58 PM

      And I of course think Kelly recruiting 3/4 star kids with elite track skills can only result in great things down the road.

      I know many think WR Chris Brown’s small frame points to a redshirt for muscle building, but he is at a position that has given little production from it’s returners. How is a 6’2” kid who can run a 10.51 100m AND jump 7 feet not on the Hail Mary team on Day 1?

  4. pacific123ocean - May 8, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Speed is great! But speed alone does not guarantee success on the field, and a lack of speed doesn’t guarantee failure. Some of the best WR’s to ever play, including Jerry Rice and Cris Carter, did not have elite level speed.

    • nudeman - May 8, 2012 at 6:40 PM

      Once Al Davis started losing touch with reality (~1985), the Raiders regularly placed an emphasis on speed, speed, speed. And if that failed, speed. They ended up with really fast teams that had no clue.

      As my man Mike Ditka once said “Let’s get some guys who can knock the HELL out of people and play football”.

      • papadec - May 9, 2012 at 2:30 AM

        nude – now you’re talkin’ my kinduv football!

  5. dapperdanirish - May 8, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    excellent article, Keith.

  6. idratherbeinsouthbend - May 8, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Given that Force = Mass * Acceleration…

    George is running 21.586 MPH with his 215 pounds of weight. So, if i want to get in front of him to tackle him while he’s running full speed, i need to stop more than 2 tons of force (4641 lbs)!!

    Somebody with some physics knowledge help me out. Is that right? That seems a bit much…either way, i don’t want to stand in front of him.

  7. txirish2 - May 8, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    You’re confusing velocity with acceleration. Acceleration is a measure of change in velocity. You can use mass and velocity to calculate kinetic energy, one half mass times velocity squared.

    I played craps with Nicholas Sparks one New Years in Tahoe, good times.

    • nudeman - May 8, 2012 at 6:55 PM

      Yes, but as Jerry Garcia once said: Time is merely a subjective phenomena.

      No idea wtf he meant, but I always liked the vague, metaphysical nature of that comment.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 8, 2012 at 7:05 PM

      First there’s math on here and now physics. Wtf? I remember CW describing Cierre’s speed as “whoosh” or something to that effect. Hard to believe that somebody as big as GAIII can move that fast carrying 215 lbs. Get him the ball (tape it to his hands) but get him the ball.

      • nudeman - May 8, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        They should move GA III to OLB

      • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 11:18 AM

        OK, safety?

      • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 3:06 PM

        OK, leave him at RB

  8. yaketyyacc - May 9, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    hmmm. maybe a little competition between the brothers gave the added boost to the excellent times.
    both on offense. wouldn’t mind a little friendly competition, on the way to the national chapmionship.
    remember “Mr. indside and Mr. outside”? that competition sure didn’t hurt Army.

    • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      Dating yourself there, bro

    • 9irish - May 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

      I appreciate that (way before my time, however). My dad knew all about it. Back then they really didn’t even give scholarships, most of the best players went to Army or Navy (there was no Air Force then). Those two were incredible players.

      • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 9:57 PM

        The 0-0 tie (1946?) between ND and Army is an all time classic college football game
        Yankee Stadium
        Two major powerhouses
        Two HOF quality coaches in Leahy and Red Blake
        And a field full of All Americans

        I believe at one point Johnny Lujack, playing both ways, made a game saving tackle of Doc Blanchard (or maybe Davis)

        Can’t say “I wish I was there” because I’m old enough as it is
        But I’d love to watch that whole game on film some time

        Goat has no idea what I’m talking about
        Thinks “Mr Inside and Mr Outside” was a disco band

      • 9irish - May 11, 2012 at 12:06 AM

        You are correct, sir. That was when, 1946, ND got all of their players back…during the war Army had some serious athletes that were waiting to get commissioned and go fight the war. And Lujack did make that shoestring tackle. Talk about a stud.

  9. bernhtp - May 9, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between size – height or bulk – and speed for sprinters. Some are quite beefy/muscular while many others are thin. Height is all over the map too, though tall is coming in vogue with Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest, measuring in at 6’5″. Carl Lewis was tall too. However, low seems to be important for the quick-cut ability most valuable on the football field.

    Here is another good article on Irish Track:

  10. 9irish - May 9, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    Well, I don’t follow everything right now as closely as others, but I agree that speed is important but not the end-all, be-all necessarily. I will also say that we have a very good defense now, and there were some serious slashing runs going on in the spring game. These guys are going to be very, very good. (but hang on to the ball!)

  11. latchbeam - May 9, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    Now if they could only play football…

  12. latchbeam - May 9, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Given that Force = Mass * Acceleration…

    George is running 21.586 MPH with his 215 pounds of weight. So,if i want to get in front of him to tackle him while he’s running full speed,i need to stop more than 2 tons of force (4641 lbs)!!

    Somebody with some physics knowledge help me out. Is that right?
    The math is right but the theory is wrong… because he will never get to top speed on the football field with a tackler directly in front of him. And if that scenario did occur, 20 lbs of pressure applied directly would break one of his bones.

  13. latchbeam - May 9, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    I bet George isn’t on the relay team… he would drop the barton.

  14. bernhtp - May 9, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    True embarrassing story.

    Years ago I was talking to my tennis partner while sitting down during a changeover and a guy sporting a stylized flattop haircut walks nearby. I comment to my partner “take a look at this guy’s Carl Lewis haircut; they’re getting popular these days.” Well, apparently the guy overheard the remark and responded “I am Carl Lewis.” I looked more closely and indeed he was.

    • andy44teg - May 9, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      Could’ve finished your embarrassing story after the first 9 words. HAHAHA…tennis??? C’mon, Man!!

      • nudeman - May 9, 2012 at 11:01 PM


    • andy44teg - May 9, 2012 at 5:34 PM

      I can almost hear you reciting that story to us commoners in Dan Akroyd’s voice from Trading Places….LMAO!

  15. janelasdedeus - Aug 25, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    Doctor Bill Hurd ran on dirt in the old field house… and if you had put him on a modern track with modern shoes and modern training…… well, he would still be far more accomplished as a physician and a fabulous jazz saxophonist…. and quality role model for all of us.

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