George Atkinson III out to blaze own trail

ALAMEDA, Calif -- There was a reason the elder George Atkinson, who has free reign at the facility, was not at the Oakland Raiders' first rookie minicamp practice on Friday.

Even if his son, George Atkinson III, was having his first NFL workout.

“I know you’re expecting me to come, but this is your moment and you need to be a man about it as an individual,” father told son the day before, “and I’m not going to be here to pressure you or anything like that.”

The younger Atkinson is one of 11 undrafted rookies the Raiders announced as having signed on Friday morning. Though he is a legacy -- pops was a hard-hitting strong safety known as the "Hit Man" who terrorized the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Lynn Swann for the Raiders from 1968 through 1977 -- Atkinson III is trying to blaze his own path after declaring for the NFL draft following his junior year at Notre Dame.

“It’s a tremendous honor for me to finally put on the silver and black,” the younger Atkinson said. “Since I was a kid, I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’m just taking advantage and basking in it right now.”

The older Atkinson played in the secondary, had 30 career interceptions and was a standout punt returner. He led the AFL with 36 returns for 490 yards and two TDs as a rookie, and had an AFL-best 25.1 yard average on kickoff returns that year. Atkinson III is a running back and kick returner.

In three years with the Fighting Irish, Atkinson III rushed for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns on 153 carries. He also returned two kickoffs for scores as a freshman.

If he is going to stick to the Raiders’ roster -- granted, this is being written after one rookie minicamp practice in May -- he’s going to have to stand out as a return man.

“Oh, definitely, all special teams,” he said. “If it’s kickoff, punt block, punt, so I’m looking at special teams as a definite way to get on the field and contribute early to this team.”

All of which begs the question, then: who was more excited when he signed with Oakland -- father, or son? The son paused for a few seconds.

“I think it was a draw,” Atkinson the younger said with a smile. “I could see it in his face. Right after the draft, he knew I was coming here without any doubt, so we both basked in the moment. We both were excited, so it was a good moment.”