Leaving BYU to Come Back

Josh Atkinson was previously enrolled as a student at BYU, but the cheering crowds, popping pads and thrill of football beckoned him back to the gridiron. Rather than walk on at BYU, Atkinson left to try his hand at earning a Division I scholarship.

Josh Atkinson's family name is embedded within the history of BYU's football program. His grandfather Chick Atkinson coached at BYU from 1945-55. His father Dave Atkinson played safety for the Cougars from 1970-73. In addition, his older brother Jordan currently plays outside linebacker for BYU and is a candidate to start at the boundary position.

"Around my house we have pictures of my dad playing at BYU and my grandfather coaching there," Josh said. "My dad played safety and had a couple of records. He had the most interceptions in a season, which was nine I think. He also had the most interceptions in a game, which I think was three. He might of had the most interceptions in a career too I think."

Josh himself has followed in his family's footsteps.

"I attended BYU for a year," he said. "I had applied at BYU and was going to go to BYU. At that time my brother [Jordan] wasn't really sure what he was going to do. Luckily, BYU was interested and came and offered him a scholarship, so it just happened that we both went out to BYU around the same time."

However, Josh wasn't at BYU on a football scholarship, but rather an academic scholarship.

"That was one reason why I was going to BYU and a big push for me, because I was getting my school paid for. I got into school and they had this thing that you could apply for. They give you an essay and it was a process. I honestly didn't think I was going to get it to be honest with you, but I got it. I got what school cost and what my books cost paid for. It was a big deal for me."

However, his scholarship didn't cover all of his expenses.

"When I say 'academic scholarship,' it paid for the cost to go to school for a semester and it paid for a small fraction of books," he explained. "As far as all the other costs – living conditions, rent and utilities – I still had to play for. The academic scholarship didn't cover all that and there was still a pretty good amount of things I had to pay for in order to go to school. Being the sixth son with older brothers and sisters needing help from my parents, I thought I should try and find a way to take care of things myself and felt this was the best way."

The ‘best way' Josh was referring to was to return to football via junior college.

"I saw my brother Jordan go the JC route and he was able to get a full-ride scholarship to BYU. At that time I really missed football and had played it in high school. I thought I was going to be able to play football in college on a scholarship, but I played for a smaller school [Alhambra High School] in Martinez, California and didn't get a lot of recognition. I played middle linebacker, fullback and some running back.

"Anyhow, I saw how my brother pretty much made it to play football, and now he has the chance to play big-time football at BYU. I still had the desire to play football and thought maybe I could just walk on at BYU and go out to the tryouts. I knew they get a lot of kids that come out and try out for the team, and it's kind of hard to get recognized that way.

"My brother told me that DVC [Diablo Valley College] was a good place to go, and that I could just go to a JC, play well, get some recognition and then get a full-ride scholarship to a four-year college. At the time I didn't really know what to do, but knew if things didn't work out I could always come back to BYU because I have the grades. So I thought I would just go to a JC and explore that route, and play for a year and see what happens."

So, he packed up his bags and left BYU in an effort to try and earn a Division I football scholarship.

"It was a hard thing because you have to be pretty confident that things are going to work out," he said. "Trust me, when I was thinking about all of this I was thinking about this for a couple of weeks. In the end I decided that I didn't want to pass up the opportunity and [that I wanted to] give it a shot. It definitely was a leap of faith and I'm hoping it works out in the end."

Josh measures in at about 6 feet 1 inch and 230 pounds. His strength in the weight room is on par with Division I players, as he bench presses 380, squats 515, and cleans 335 pounds. Despite dealing with an injury, Atkinson had a productive season last year.

"I tore my hamstring so I didn't play in every game," Atkinson said. "I only played in eight out of the 10 games and just had to stay off of it. The two games I missed were nonconference games fortunately. I played in eight games this past season and did really well. I made all-conference in the Nor Cal Conference, which is really good. Despite missing two games, I had pretty good stats. In eight games I had 82 tackles, five sacks, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and 10 tackles for a loss."

Atkinson's stats are particularly impressive given the caliber of competition he faced.

"The Nor Cal Conference is one of the toughest JC conferences in California, at least in Northern California," he said. "We play Butte College where [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers came from, and we actually played against his little brother. We also play San Francisco City College where [Oregon quarterback Jeremiah] Masoli came from. There are a lot of great players and very competitive schools in this conference. We're definitely playing against a lot of Division I players."

After his first year, Atkinson received scholarship offers from Utah State and UTEP, as well as from two FCS schools. Though he had set out to earn an offer from a Division I program and had two in hand at this point, he did not commit to either of them.

"Honestly, I left BYU to get a scholarship to go to school on a full-ride scholarship, and could have done that by committing to one of those schools. They just weren't places I wanted to get my degree from and play football. Honestly, it really just comes down to having faith that I can make it back to BYU. I had kids on my team say that I was crazy and out of my mind denying myself these scholarships. I didn't go back to the JC system to just settle for something. I don't regret my decision now and I hope I don't regret it in the future. I'm hoping everything will work out in the long run. I have faith it will work out."

A few other Division I programs have taken notice of Atkinson but do not have an available scholarship for him.

"Cal came at me and said, 'We like your film but we just don't have a scholarship available at this time. Would you be willing to be a preferred walk-on?' I wasn't really into that because my goal was to get a full-ride scholarship, hopefully back to BYU."

As it just so happens, BYU is the other school to have approached Atkinson about walking on.

"I had a really great season last year, but after the season BYU already had watched my film and talked to my brother Jordan about me. They told him that they really liked my film but that they already had all of the scholarships handed out and verbally committed. That's understandable because I had kind of gone under the radar until late last November. BYU said, 'Well, is there any way you would be willing to walk-on this year?' I told them, 'Well, I could have done that before when I was already at BYU. How about I stay another year and play and see what happens.' Now I'm already on BYU's radar for next year and hopefully they can reserve a scholarship for me."

Coach Doman went down and watched Atkinson practice this past spring. According to Atkinson, Doman left with a good impression of him.

"I got a chance to talk to [Doman] a little bit afterwards," said Atkinson. "It seemed like he was pretty impressed with me and had some good things to say about me. He said he would go back and let Coach Mendenhall know what he thought about me. He left a little early before we finished practice, but later that day he called me and said he was pretty impressed with how I moved and my speed for my size. He liked my footwork and overall was pretty impressed.

"BYU would be my first choice because I have so much heritage there, and so many members of my family has been a part of the program. My family has pretty much just gone to school there, whether they've played football or not. I would say a majority of my family lives up there in Provo, and so BYU would naturally be my first choice. What it comes down to is I'm hoping to get that scholarship to go back to BYU. It's always been a dream to play there and my brother is on a full-ride scholarship to play there and he's probably going to start at outside linebacker this season. I would really like to carry the torch when he's gone."

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