Three years ago, Braden Atkinson entered Calvert Hall (Towson, Md.) as a star midfielder with lacrosse offers from some of the nation’s most renowned programs. He ended up committing to Johns Hopkins during his freshman year, eager to suit up for the powerhouse Blue Jays down the line.
But after two seasons of non-stop lacrosse at Calvert Hall, Atkinson grew disenchanted with the game. Truth be told, he missed football, which he’d played his entire life until reaching high school and dedicating his life to “sticks.”
“I just kind of lost interest in the sport,” Atkinson said of lacrosse. “I’d played lacrosse my whole life too, but it began to feel like a job to me. At Calvert Hall, I was playing lacrosse full-time, but after my sophomore year I transferred to Boys’ Latin (Baltimore, Md.) and began playing football. And then I fell in love with football again and decided that’s the sport I wanted to pursue. I ended up decommitting from Hopkins three months ago to focus just on football and playing tight end.”
After attending numerous summer football camps, the tight end Atkinson realized he needed to gain weight in order to attract major college suitors. Thus, he bulked up and now stands 6-feet-4, 215 pounds. Then, following a standout junior campaign where he recorded 58 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns, Atkinson began garnering significant attention on the recruiting trail.
Old Dominion became the first program to ante up Dec. 4, but schools such as Maryland, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers and Tennessee have been in contact. Atkinson visited ODU back in November, took in hometown UMD Feb. 13, and will be hitting Pitt Feb. 28; UT in March; and Wake April 2.
“Maryland seems like they’re very interested, Wake Forest is a big one showing interest and Pitt’s been talking to me a lot too,” Atkinson said. “So things are starting to pick up for me, and hopefully I’ll be getting some more offers soon.”
One offer he covets, though, is Maryland, the school he just visited for “DMV Day” Feb. 13. Atkinson obviously grew up in the shadow of the hometown school, but he’s taken even more of a liking to the Terps after meeting head coach D.J. Durkin and the rest of his staff.
“I just actually liked the whole new staff when I was up there. The relationship, it’s not like other schools yet because I just met them, but it’s good. The Maryland coaches were all welcoming and very nice to me when I was there,” Atkinson said. “I talked to Coach [Pete] Lembo, the tight ends coach, and he was a rally nice guy. He introduced himself to me and my dad, and he knew who I was before I even got there. Then he talked to us about Maryland and we watched some film. [Lembo] gave me some pointers, and told me things I did well and things I could improve on. I just thought he was awesome and a great guy.”
Atkinson also had a chance to speak to Maryland’s Director of Recruiting, Marcus Berry.
“Coach Berry talked to me and my dad too, and it was the same thing -- he already knew who I was. He told me I had elite hands and a great catching radius, and they really like me as a staff,” Atkinson said. “[Berry] said the coaches all had watched my film and liked me.”
So, is the offer coming?
Atkinson admitted he wasn’t quite sure yet, but he was encouraged by the coaches’ comments.
“I hope so, to be completely honest,” Atkinson said. “Maryland would be one of my top choices. I don’t know if I’d commit on the spot, but I’d be considering them a lot. Just because of the coaches in general, and how strong and heavy they were about the DMV and winning a championship with DMV guys -- it was a very powerful message for me.
“And they’ve had like 54 or 55 players over the last five years either go in the NFL draft of play in the NFL, which was pretty cool too.”
The Boys’ Latin prospect went on to laud Maryland’s facility upgrades and the program’s new strength coach, Rick Court.
“They’re building a new $150 million facility there too. They showed us a video of it, and it truly looks like it’s going to be the best in the country,” said Atkinson, who also noted the fan atmosphere inside Xfinity Center for the basketball game Feb. 13. “And the strength coach really knows his stuff, and I would really like to be under his watch. He has a good relationship with his guys, and I thought it was cool how he knew his players on a personal level. Like, every Saturday there’s an optional workout, but all the guys showed up anyway because they want to get better and learn from [Court]. That was very impressive to me.”