Weekley: New Number for Atkins Brings New Attitude

The Marshall defense featured a tough-minded linebacker wearing the Green and White jersey number 5 last season. Max Yates wore that number as a four-year starter and the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

While Yates has moved on and is currently trying to join the ever-growing Herd connection on the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, another Marshall linebacker has picked up the torch and will wear that familiar number 5 this fall.

"I just decided to change my number," Says sophomore Kevin Atkins, who wore number 43 last season as a true freshman.

"Max was a great player. There will never be another Max Yates," explained Atkins, who is in the mix at middle linebacker with current projected starter Duran Smith and freshman Damarcus Thomas. Atkins believes the competition for playing time among the Herd's linebackers in fall camp is raising everyone's performance and expectations.

"We are real deep at middle linebacker and inside linebacker," Atkins added. "We have got a lot of talent. It (the battle for jobs) is real competitive. We have got good people pushing good people."

With the avalanche of media attention that Marshall has been getting in the pre-season, it didn't take long for Yates to find out that Atkins was taking his old number. If you have ever watched Yates play football, you know that his bad side is the one side you want to avoid at all costs.

Kevin Atkins

But Mad Max was cool with it. We think.

"He really didn't say much," Atkins said of Yates reaction. "He knows I' ll hold it down for him. It's my job to help continue the great tradition of linebackers we have here."

It didn't take fellow linebacker Charlie Tynes long to notice that Atkins was trying to shake things up a bit by changing his number.

"I guess everybody just wants a single digit now," said Tynes who plans on sticking with his number 45. "He (Atkins) is just out to show everyone a ‘New World Order' with that number five. He's a natural born headhunter. We have got to put Max (Yates) in the wind. Atkins is out to do his own thing."

When Atkins began thinking about changing his number, he also considered his old high school number 42, from his days at Henrico High in Richmond.

Too late. Marshall number 42 had already been issued to true freshman punter Klint Rose from Lexington, Kentucky.

But Atkins won't need his old number to remind him of Henrico High School when Marshall visits Blacksburg for a test with the nationally ranked Hokies on September twelfth. One of Atkins' old Henrico teammates is Virginia Tech 's outstanding defensive end Jim Davis.

Atkins won't have to worry about blocking his old high school teammate Jim Davis, who is also getting some snaps at defensive tackle for Virginia Tech. But he-along with the rest of the Herd-will have to find a way to shutdown, or at least slow down, the Hokies running backs known as "The Untouchables"-Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones.

"This year we have a totally new attitude defensively," Said Atkins. "We' ve got a whole new look. We should be pretty good."

Atkins is one of the latest in a long line of Virginia natives who have crossed the line into the Mountain State to play at Marshall. While it's obvious the Herd coaches are doing a much better job of attracting in-staters to Marshall, Virginia high schools produced eight players in this year's freshman class-more than any other state-including West Virginia (7).

"I can't speak for the other (Virginia) guys, but what got me here was coach (Bill) Wilt," said Atkins of his 370-mile, due west migration from Richmond to Huntington. "I really liked coach Wilt. We bonded and that's what got me here."

Marshall's Bob Pruett knows the state of Virginia well, after 14 years in the Old Dominion as a head coach and assistant. But the idea that Virginia somehow provides Marshall a free-flowing talent pool brings a chuckle from the Herd's veteran coach.

"It's never easy," Says Pruett of prying players out of Virginia in the current climate of high stakes recruiting poker between the Hokies, Al Groh' s Virginia Cavaliers and other schools constantly looking for talent.

"What we have been able to do is find players who, for whatever reason someone else didn't want," Pruett explained. "Or we were able to sway them away from other schools. Virginia is a good area for us, because we've had players come from that area and they have been successful and they've graduated. The younger guys in Virginia hear about that and they have a natural interest in us."

Pruett's description of Marshall's Virginia recruiting philosophy was certainly dead on in the case of Kevin Atkins. Atkins talent on the football field was never questioned. Whether he could produce the grades to play college football at a I-A school was. While other schools backed away from Atkins, Marshall stuck by him. In the end, Atkins qualified to play as a true freshman and appeared in 10 of 13 games as a reserve linebacker.

Atkins believes that the uncertainty surrounding his eligibility last season slowed his development.

"Last year I was discouraged about my grades," Admitted Atkins. "I didn't know if I was going to be cleared (to play) or not."

With his grade problems apparently a thing of the past, Kevin Atkins is now looking for a passing grade as a key member of the Marshall defense.

"This year I'm in better condition and working harder in the weight room.," Smiled Atkins. "I'm totally focused."

Totally focused on a big sophomore season. And living up to the responsibility of manning the middle of the Marshall defense with the number five on his back.

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