Junior running back George Atkinson III has played his last snap at Notre Dame. Atkinson signed paperwork Tuesday to declare for the NFL Draft.
Junior running back George Atkinson III ends his Notre Dame career with 3,144 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I guess it’s like anything else when you feel you’re ready for something and the time is proper for you,” said Atkinson’s father, George Jr. “If you have an opportunity why not try to seize it?”
Atkinson finishes his Notre Dame career with 3,144 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons. He burst on to the scene as a kick returner during his freshman season, returning touchdowns against Michigan State and USC. After experiments at wide receiver early in his career, he settled into a role at running back.
The Irish pegged Atkinson as their No. 1 back at the start of the 2013 season, but he never fully seized the position. He finished the year second on the team with 555 rushing yards and three scores on 93 carries. His role as the team’s main kickoff returner put him first among Irish players in all-purpose yards.
Irish coach Brian Kelly suspended Atkinson for the Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl for violating team rules. Atkinson said he was punished for sending text messages to friends and family during a team meal in the week leading up to the game. Atkinson’s father said the family was considering a jump to the pros before the suspension occurred.
"It was nothing other than a conscious decision based on opportunity," Atkinson Jr. said. "He feels he's ready for it."
Atkinson was one of three Notre Dame juniors for whom Kelly requested NFL Draft evaluations in December. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tight end Troy Niklas were the others. Tuitt told several media outlets Sunday night that he planned to declare for the draft. Niklas said in December he fully expects to return to Notre Dame next season.
More than 80 underclassmen have already declared for this year's draft, a record high. Tuitt and Atkinson are the first two Notre Dame players to leave the school without degrees in hand since Kyle Rudolph left at the end of Kelly's first season in 2010.
Atkinson said he received a late-round grade in his league evaulation. He spoke with other NFL personnel earlier this week when making a final decision.
Atkinson Jr., a former All-Pro cornerback with the Oakland Raiders, said the league sources led him to believe Atkinson has a chance to earn an invitation to the draft combine in Indianapolis in February or to one of the new regional combines throughout the country. Atkinson plans to get ready for combines and pro day events in California, his home state.
His father said Atkinson wants to return to school to finish his degree at some point in the future. Atkinson’s twin brother, Josh, plans to remain at Notre Dame for his senior season next year. He was a special teams regular during the 2013 season for the Irish and worked at both cornerback and wide receiver at times in practice.