Montavious Atkinson doesn’t really have a name that lends itself to nicknames. Most of his teammates just call him “At.”
You know, short for Atkinson.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, though, came up with a better one for the junior linebacker last season: “Rolling ball of butcher knives.”
If you ask some of the other guys at his position, they’ll tell you it fits.
“He’s a freak athlete, he runs to the ball. He has a motor that just doesn’t stop,” junior Darrell Williams said.
“He brings a lot of energy. A lot of energy,” senior Tre’ Williams said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re in the first quarter or the last minute of the fourth quarter; he’s going to bring the same energy.”
Atkinson has always been that type of player; the former four-star recruit out of Fairburn, Ga., just didn’t get much of a chance to show it early in his career. He appeared in 10 games as a safety as a freshman in 2015, but he only recorded one tackle. He moved to linebacker prior to the 2016 season, but he didn’t get on the field much through the first four weeks.
He settled in at the position during the latter half of last season, though: From Oct. 1 against Louisiana-Monroe on, Atkinson recorded 26 of his 30 tackles and three tackles for loss.
“When I first got here, I had to slow the game down,” said the 6-foot-1 Atkinson, who has gone from 185 pounds as a freshman to 220 now. “So I felt like I slowed the game down. My biggest thing is confidence. When I’m out there, I’m comfortable. I’m not out there panicking. They give me the play, I get in and I execute. But I still have a lot of things to work on.”
Atkinson has plenty ahead of him on the depth chart, those two Williamses among them. He’s behind Darrell Williams at the “money” linebacker spot in Auburn’s defense, where he’ll likely continue to get a push from true freshmen Chandler Wooten and T.D. Moultry. Tre’ Williams and Deshaun Davis starred at the other linebacker spot last season.
But Atkinson brings the same high energy to the game that position coach Travis Williams does. Auburn’s defenders like to use the phrase “fly around” to describe their effort.” Atkinson told reporters Tuesday that they “best believe” he actually has wings.
That — the energy, not the wings — is what teammates believe will help continue to make his way onto the field.
“He had a really great summer, as far as training,” Tre’ Williams said. “Coach Steele says no matter your age, you can still be a leader, no matter how young or old you are. And Montavious is a leader by example. He goes out and works hard in everything he does. You can just see him grow every day, and it’s really exciting to watch.”