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May 26, 2009
ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's Geno Atkins is living proof that first impressions aren't everything.
If they were, he might not have ever gotten on the field for the Bulldogs to become the player many now consider one of the top defensive tackles in the Southeastern Conference.
Ex-Georgia center Fernando Velasco remembers Atkins' initial time in Athens. He wasn't impressed.
"When he first got here, he was one guy who was just so lazy. There was no work ethic at all," Velasco said. "You could tell he had ability, but with that work attitude, I never thought he'd every play a down at Georgia."
Atkins admitted that Velasco was 100 percent correct.
"It was a rough transition from high school to college," said Atkins, a former Rivals.com four-star performer. "The conditioning, the weight room lifting, getting down the whole Georgia system, it was all very tough for me to get used too at first."
These days, Atkins is showing the youngsters how to get it done.
"He's really proved a lot of people wrong," Velasco said. "He's strong and very quick off the ball. He's one of the better defensive tackles, not only on this team but in the SEC."
The league has certainly taken notice. Atkins has earned All-SEC honors in each of the past two seasons and as the Bulldogs begin drifting into town later this week for the start of voluntary workouts, the 6-foot-1, 292-pounder is geared up for his biggest year yet.
Despite a season that saw Atkins deal with constant double-teams, he still managed to collect 34 tackles, including 7.5 for loss. Atkins was virtually unblockable this spring, giving coach Mark Richt plenty of reason for optimism that Atkins can have a big 2009 season.
"We didn't have anybody who could handle him," Richt said during the spring. "You watch him and he's just so strong. He's also more athletic than people want to give him credit for. But it's like anything else; when you add energy to that, you've got a guy whose attitude it is 'I'm going to play hard every play.' That's when you've got yourself something, and Geno has tasted enough success because he's playing hard."
In fact, many thought that Atkins might forgo his senior season to apply for the NFL draft, but the Florida native put a quick end to that speculation, stating that he always intended to return to Georgia to fulfill a promise to his mother that he would leave Athens with a degree in hand.
"That's what she wanted me to do, that's what I wanted to do," Atkins said when he informed UGASports during his initial announcement.
As far as this fall, Atkins has one goal in mind.
"We just want to get back to playing Georgia defense," Atkins said. "Last year was kind of tough. We know we're better than what we showed."