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Atkins expects a bigger role in 2nd season at Centre

August 17, 2003|MARTY WARREN

Last season, former Danville All-Stater Justin Atkins was a freshman at Centre College waiting for an opportunity to show Centre coaches what he could do on the football field.

He finally got his chance to play midway through the season and with heavy graduation to last year's defensive line, Atkins expects to play even more this season for the Colonels.

"Last year I came in here and didn't really know what to expect," said Atkins. "I wasn't as prepared as I should, or could, have been coming in and had to learn things the hard way. This year I have been in the weight room everyday working out and running and hopefully that will get me better prepared for the upcoming season."

The Colonels lost five players by either graduation or transfer off the defensive front from last year, and Centre coach Andy Frye said the position of nose guard is his to earn. Atkins made The Associated Press All-State team on both offense and defense in 2001 and twice was named to The Advocate-Messenger All-Area Tam.

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"(Justin) received a considerable amount of playing time midway through last season and has had a great off-season preparing for the upcoming season," Frye said. "He is only 5-11, but at 280 pounds he is one of the strongest kids on the team. He brings some experience to our defensive line, and we are expecting him to contribute right away. He will be an outstanding nose guard for us. He is strong enough to handle the center and quick enough to get off his blocks."

Frye and Atkins have different opinions on one phase of the college game as compared to the high school level - the speed at which the college game is played.

"I don't care what level you are playing at, the speed of the game changes when you get at this level," the Centre coach said.

"Honestly, the quickness at this level wasn't that much different than what I experienced in high school. I expected a lot more," Atkins said. "The biggest change that I can see is everyone is bigger and stronger. I'm going against guys my size every day now."

He knows there will be pressure on the young defensive line

Atkins knows that a lot of pressure will be on the young defensive line early in the season.

"Everybody thinks we are rebuilding because we lost so many linemen, so I guess a lot of pressure will be put on us right away," Atkins said. "Some people are saying that our season depends on how well our defensive line plays. Once we get our lines up to par, though, we'll be OK."

Frye thinks that his young line will be fine once they get some playing time.

"The toughest thing that I have to do as a coach is to try to develop experience as quick as we can so that when we get into the season they will be able to take on their responsibilities," Frye added. "This line we have coming back is more talented than last year's team, but they are just not as experienced."

Atkins wants to compete for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title now.

"I guess I have high expectations, but I don't think you can count us out," Atkins said. "Everyone is shooting for (defending Division III runner-up) Trinity (Texas) because of the success they have had, but I think we are evenly matched with everyone else."

Frye thinks getting more players from winning programs helps.

"Justin comes from a great football program, and you can't coach winning," Frye said. "Players that come from winning programs seem to make our best players. The know what it takes to be successful."

Atkins has put all of his personal goals aside to become the best player he can this year.

"At the end of last season, I was on the same level as everyone else," he said. "I'm looking forward to this season. I feel like I'm getting stronger and faster and I have three good years ahead of me. I just want to stay healthy and play hard. I'll do whatever I have to do to help this team win."

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