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Irish A-to-Z: Josh Atkinson

Apr 29, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT

Atkinson Jackson track

We kick off our 83-part series with an alphabetical run through the Notre Dame football roster. It’s a long offseason. Why not learn something interesting about every player on the Irish roster. 

Josh Atkinson came to Notre Dame with a secondary that was running out of bodies. With starters Robert Blanton entrenched along side Gary Gray, Atkinson joined a position group that had only Lo Wood as a backup, with both E.J. Banks and Spencer Boyd leaving the program early in the Kelly era. (Wood ended up tearing his achilles tendon in preseason camp, making the situation at cornerback even more dire.)

In Atkinson’s four years in the program, much has changed. After committing on the same day as his twin brother George, Atkinson played more as a freshman than he did as a junior, the product of a rebuilt depth chart and enhanced competition.

Now playing for the first time without his brother along side of him, let’s take a quick look at Josh Atkinson heading into his final season at Notre Dame.


5’11.5″, 197 lbs.
Senior, #24



While twin brother George was a Top 100 recruit, Josh had a three-star grade along with impressive (but not elite) offers. Atkinson committed to the Irish after watching them lose to Michigan in 2010, choosing Notre Dame over Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Washington State.

Still, Atkinson was far from a slouch as a recruit. He was selected for the USA team, where he played with Stephon Tuitt. His speed and size were givens. His athleticism was a bit of a concern, and the knock on Atkinson was that he was a track athlete still trying to figure out football.



Freshman Season (2011): Atkinson played in eight games as a true freshman, sitting out the season’s first four games and missing the bowl game. He notched a tackle against Navy and Wake Forest on defense. Made two other tackles on special teams.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams. The loss of Lo Wood forced Atkinson into a reserve cornerback role, playing behind starters KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson. Atkinson made five tackles on the season, with three of them coming against Boston College. Off the field, he finished fourth at the Big EAST outdoor track meet with a 10.39 time in the 100m dash. He had top ten finishes at the Big East indoor meet in the 60m and the 200m.

Junior Season (2013): Played in five games, appearing against Temple and then not again until the season’s final four games. Spent time cross-training as a reserve wide receiver before making a tackle on special teams in the Pinstripe Bowl.



Both Atkinson and fellow senior cornerback Jalen Brown have been passed on the depth chart by younger cornerbacks. They’ll also have a hard time getting on the field with fifth-year transfer student Cody Riggs walking in and contributing.

There’s no question that Atkinson’s speed is his best asset. His 10.39 100 meter time puts him in elite territory for football players moonlighting on the track, joining Rocket Ismail and his brother in the sub-10.4 crowd. But that speed hasn’t necessarily translated to success on the football field and athletically Atkinson still struggles as a cornerback operating in open space.

It’s interesting to wonder if Atkinson would’ve been a starting caliber player on one of Charlie Weis’ mediocre defenses, or if he’d have played more if the depth chart wasn’t one of the more top-heavy positions on the roster. But quality veteran depth like Atkinson is a sign of program strength, not necessarily a knock on the player.



Atkinson finishes his eligibility this season after playing as a true freshman and will likely only see the field on special teams. With five cornerbacks in front of him even before Nick Watkins hits campus, finding a niche role will be important if Atkinson wants to contribute.

With Scott Booker’s coverage teams needing an infusion of speed, Atkinson could become a regular contributor there, though four seasons in you’d think that he’d have already solidified that coverage job if it was in his DNA.

On pace to graduate after the season, Atkinson will leave Notre Dame with a degree, something incredibly important to him. He hasn’t become the lockdown cornerback with elite speed many hoped, but he became a solid special teams contributor and served as a key backup early in his career when the cornerback depth chart was dangerously thin.






  1. upthera44 - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:02 PM

    A surefire way to give us something to talk about during the offseason. Good idea!

    • ndfenian - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      absolutely brilliant way for me to waste more time at work!

      • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:01 PM

        Absolutely brilliant way for me to rest up from my recently concluded tri-state crime spree!!

  2. irishdog80 - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    Given the environment out there and the appetite for “5th” year signees like Cody Riggs. I wonder if the right thing to do by Atkinson, a good soldier, is ask him if he is interested in playing elsewhere after he gets his degree from ND. If he does have interest in that possibility, the staff should only use him if he either truly earns his way on the field or has to be used as a backup due to injury or he moved up the depth chart based on practice performance. They could treat him like a “redshirt” senior and only burn that opportunity if they have to. Why not allow the kid the chance to play full time at another school…non-competitor of ND…and see if he does have the ability to play somewhere else. You only truly find out what you can do on the field if you get the playing time.

    • irishwilliamsport - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      You need to read the article a little closer, his eligibility will be used up after this year as he has played all four years albeit sparingly. I wish him well and hope he is a special teams animal this year.

      The challenge in the next few years will be trying to figure out how many 5th year seniors to keep on the team. 15 players are eligible for a 5th year in 2015 and probably a similar number in 2017 & 2018. Looks like 7 or 8 in 2016.

      • odername - Apr 29, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        Actually, dog80 is right. Josh has used three years of eligibility to this point. If he were to not play in any games this year and graduate, he could transfer anywhere next year, get started on a Masters degree and play football.

      • irishdog80 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:40 AM

        Exactly. Don’t play Atkinson just to burn his remaining eligibility. Play him if he is the best option to be out there. He is clearly not goiing to be a prime time contributor at ND. Why not, if he is interested, allow him the chance to start and play regularly somewhere else while he gets a graduate degree. It could be a win/win for all concerned.

        The added issue is whether or not you play Atkinson on special teams so that you can preserve a younger players redshirt possibilities. Just wondering and thinking about how to get the truly best players on the field.

        Another thought is that our special team’s play hasn’t been stellar. Maybe it’s due to the fact that marginal players, like Atkinson, get their playing time there instead of guys that could really make a difference. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing an overamped special teams unit overrun the play and give up a big return.

  3. danirish - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    Elite speed? Can he return kicks? Punts?


  4. shaunodame - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    While Josh has every bit the football pedigree ND likes in it’s athletes, I’ve always felt, barring a major breakout season this year, that Josh was a bit of a throw-in for landing his more talented brother GAIII. It’s too bad Josh could never put all his abilities together towards making him a more complete/better player. Kudos to him for seeing things through to getting his degree and sticking around to finish his career at Notre Dame. So, Regardless of his shortcomings he’ll be a ND guy for life.

    • onward2victory - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:48 AM

      You have to wonder if the Atkinson bros would have been better off going somewhere else like Fresno State or something. Josh would have gotten significant playing time and George would have been the man.

      • shaunodame - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:27 AM

        That’s a good point onward. I gotta agree they BOTH would have had better chances at playing time at other schools. In hindsight, I’m sure they both would have considered some “lesser” schools

      • ibleedirish - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        If in fact one’s playing time in a college GAME meant a hill of beans the last 70-80 yrs of your life, you may be right. Fresno would have been a better choice.

        Please get some perspective.

  5. yaketyyacc - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:36 AM

    both Atkinson brothers had and have potential, potential which went undeveloped by the coaches, and misapplying their talents to areas which would not allow them to be used fruitfully. well, coaches have to grow also. as pointed out above, they will have one great asset: a Notre Dame degree.
    and as another poster remarked, yes, Keith, good idea. thanks

    • mediocrebob - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      Couldn’t disagree more. Both players were given just as many opportunities as anyone else. And George was used in very particular situations for specific play types ( especially in ’12) in which he had some success. To put their shortcomings on the coaching staff is weak IMO. George especially was given every opportunity and BK and co. always seemed disappointed in him. If a player doesn’t develop, it’s not always the coaches fault. Especially when you see most players around him developing pretty well.

      • shaunodame - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:44 PM

        I think you nailed it, Bob.

    • onward2victory - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Only one of them will have that ND degree. GA3 bolted early.

  6. irishwilliamsport - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    Don’t play him this year so he can transfer and have a year of eligibility elsewhere ? Really ?

    • irishdog80 - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      I’m saying don’t play him just to play him. If he hasn’t earned his way on the field, let him preserve a year of eligibility to go play somewhere else. Our special teams have been bad. Atkinson has seen most of his playing time on special teams and maybe he shouldn’t when there are other more capable players available. It could be a win/win for everyone. Atkinson doesn’t play so a more talented underclassman does and we have improved special teams play and Atkinson has the opportunity to live out his football dreams at Fresno State or some other D1 school. What’s wrong with that scenario? Nothing if it means getting the best players on the field.

      • bernhtp - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM

        I thought only the freshman year provided a blanket redshirt for not playing and that subsequent years required some medical or other non-discretionary reason (e.g., family emergency) that needs to be well documented? If so, not playing him would not give him a fifth year, here or elsewhere.

      • irishdog80 - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        As I understand it, you have 5 years to complete your 4 years of playing. In this case, Atkinson would be a de facto Redshirt during his 4th year and would still have his 5th year to play football.

        The only reason I am even pondering this question is that Atkinson seems to be one of those guys that has the athletic ability, but lacks the on field prowess–at least as shown during practice since he has not logged many minutes in a real game–to make him a regular contributor. He is in a bit of a Catch-22 situation. He needs on field experience to get better and, hopefully, learn from his mistakes and successes. He is clearly not passing muster at ND, so, if he doesn’t have to play, then let him play elsewhere. He is still insurance and could play, but does he really have to? If he does, then so be it and that is part of the deal he committed to when he signed to play at ND.

      • heartofgoldandblue - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:32 PM

        Stupid. “Hey Josh, somebody else belongs out there on the Kick Coverage Unit but we’re gonna play ya just to play ya”

      • irishdog80 - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:25 PM

        Do you really believe the truly best players are out there on special teams and there are no other options…better options? If they are the best ones we got then we better fire the Special Teams Coach since our Special Teams are no where near the level of our Offense and Defense. I can guarantee you that there are players on Special Teams that are there to throw them a bone and keep them engaged in the process. They are good players, but not the best option. Given the performance of our Special Teams we need to start looking at our best options.

        Put yourself in Josh Atkinson’s shoes. Which would you rather have? A meaningless series of appearances in a few games that burns your final year of eligibility or a chance to play full time as a DB at another D1 school in 2015 and pursue a graduate degree for free? What would you choose and what is in the best interests of the athlete? If our Special Teams were lights outI would say we need him there, but there is plenty of room for improvement and he doesn’t seem to be a vital part of the solution.

      • heartofgoldandblue - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:41 PM

        I respect your view in regards to what is best for Josh and preserving any possible eligibility for a better opportunity. I don’t think that’s something you factor in with your game planning as far as personnel. There’s no doubt that special teams has MAJOR room for improvement but I’m sure the coaches at least think they’re putting their best special teams players out there. Kelly also made a statement how he wants to put the best players out there (starters included) depth allowing. The point is you put the players on the field that you think are best suited for success in the given situation. If you think Josh Atkinson will help on special teams, you play him, if you don’t think he’ll help or he requests he’d rather sit on the bench and wait til next to play somewhere else while still securing his ND diploma then maybe you don’t play him. Play to win…

      • irishdog80 - May 1, 2014 at 12:10 AM

        heartofgoldandblue, I agree with your assessment. Another factor that influences my thinking about Josh Atkinson is that he is the son of a quality NFL player. I am sure that his Dad, brother and himself believe they have the athletic genes to follow in the footsteps of Dad. George has enough quality tape for a team to give him a legitimate shot at the NFL. Josh does not and needs the game experience as a DB to get more than a courtesy look by a team. If ND needs him in 2014 then by all means they have to play him. If he’s marginal or gets passed up…let the 5th year option happen organically. Remember that we have 83 players on the roster and 45+ had 4 star ratings or higher by scouting services. I am confident we can find the right mix to be successful on special teams and still have plenty of depth.

  7. irishwilliamsport - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    It just doesn’t work that way in major college football unfortunately. Josh will have received 4 years tuition, room and board and a degree from Notre Dame that’s worth quite a few dollars, nothing else is owed.

    • irishdog80 - May 1, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      If Josh Atkinson is a key linchpin in our Special Teams and plans for the Secondary then play him. Do you think he is?

  8. 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Given his record so far it does not appear that he has next level talent, but as irishwilliamsport wisely remarks he will walk away from Notre Dame with a Notre Dame degree, free lifetime membership in the Notre Dame family – worldwide – and nothing else is owed,

  9. 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    I LOVE this idea. If we do this at a one a day pace we should get done around August 1, at which point we can officially start foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the upcoming season.

    Keith (And I promise to say this only once) – YOU DA MAN!!!

  10. 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Suggestion – in your piece about each player you should state what is his major at ND.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      …and favorite color.

    • mmanor01 - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:19 PM

      …and what dorm they live in.

    • heartofgoldandblue - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:37 PM

      …and if they like long walks on the beach. Kidding aside, I do like the majors idea.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:52 PM

        Me too. The whole article is a great idea for the off season.

  11. irishwilliamsport - May 1, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    dog80 just doesn’t get it. Notre Dame owes Josh Atkinson nothing. I guess we’re supposed to pay him 100k this year to go to school and practice ? Between tuition, room & board, training table, stipends and medical coverage I’ll bet you it’s about a hundred grand and we’re supposed to not play him so he can have a year of eligibility elsewhere ? He can always transfer or stay and earn his degree right ? Great kid but just didn’t work out on the field.

    • irishdog80 - May 1, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      Read my comments…completely. I have never said that we shouldn’t play him if he earns his way on the field. I have only pointed out that Atkinson is one of those players that might benefit from a 5th year at another school. No need to burn his 5th year so he can make a couple of appearances in meaningless moments of a game. That said, he still needs to compete and be there if needed. Based on his record and the influx of talent in the secondary, I just don’t think he has to see the field.

      I get it. You just don’t understand it.

      • rico75 - May 1, 2014 at 3:23 PM

        You may get it but I think you’ve got it wrong. When a student plays their freshman year, the eligibility clock starts running. The only way they can get a fifth year is for medical reasons, not by simply not playing due to coach’s decision.

      • irishdog80 - May 1, 2014 at 4:12 PM

        I have looked it up and it falls under the Graduate Student Eligibility. Every players clock starts ticking during their Freshman Year and they have 5 years to complete their eligibility. If they have not completed all 4 years…playing…during their first 4 years, they are eligible for a 5th year as a Grad Student at another school if that is their best option. The Medical Red Shirt applies to players that played less than half a year and seek another year of eligibility or the rare 6th year player that got hurt during one of their active years and ended up having two years of “red shirting”. Atkinson would be like Bruce Heggie or a Brandon Newman that transfered to Ball State after graduating from ND.

        On another note, I have never said that ND “owes” Atkinson or any other player. The 5th Year transfer has become a common occcurence in college football and the transfer of Riggs to ND should have set off Alarms at the oversigning SEC schools that they will now have to “rerecruit” even a player like Riggs who might decide to transfer for a better situation both on and off the field despite being a 3 year regular at a major powerhouse program like Florida.

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