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On his first day in a Raider uniform, George Atkinson III didn’t have to worry about his father looking over his shoulder.
George Atkinson is regular presence at Raiders practice, working on the club’s broadcast team, and is often at the side of owner Mark Davis.
Instead, Davis watched and chatted with Raiders ambassador Willie Brown, while George III ran plays as a running back wearing No. 34 in the silver and black he’d worshipped his entire life.
“He told me yesterday, `I’m not going to come out. I know you’re expecting me to come but this is your moment and you need to be a man about it as an individual and I’m not going to be here to pressure you,’’ Atkinson III said following practice Friday at the Raiders’ rookie minicamp. “He’ll have a chance to come out and see me.’’
Although the father played defense as a cornerback and safety and the son is a running back, special teams had a lot to do with why George made the team and is a potential ticket for George III.
A seventh-round pick out of Morris Brown, Atkinson returned 32 punts for 490 yards, a 13.6 average and two touchdowns as a rookie in 1968 to go along with a 25.1 average on 25 kickoffs.
Atkinson III, one of 62 juniors who declared for the draft following their junior season but was not selected, returned a pair kickoffs for touchdowns as a Notre Dame freshman and gained 943 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in three seasons in a system where backs were often rotated.
He was also a willing and enthusiastic participant on coverage teams.
“If it’s kickoff, punt block or punt, I’m looking at special teams as a definite way to get on the field and contribute early to this team,’’ Atkinson III said.
A star at Granada High in Livermore along with his twin brother Josh, who remains at Notre Dame as a receiver, Atkinson III was seen often in Napa during training camp and an occasional visitor to the facility with his father.
As the draft dragged on and the phone never rang, Atkinson III began to wonder if wanted to get selected or instead go unselected, enabling him to sign with the Raiders.
Atkinson III said it never occurred to him to make his own way separate from the road his father traveled, feeling it was a natural fit to come to the organization he has known his entire life.
“I’ve looked up to this organization and this club for along time and there was no part of that going on with me,’’ Atkinson III said. “I’ve looked up to my dad and wanted to follow in his footsteps but also lead my own trail at the same time. You’ve got to find that balance and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.’’
Raiders coach Dennis Allen said bringing in Atkinson III was a no-brainer.
“He’s a talented athlete and he’s got a lot of speed, and he has the ability to help us on special teams,’’ Allen said. “I think any time you have a chance to get a legacy, somebody who has the Raider bloodlines, you do it because those guys understand what it means to be a Raider.’’
Atkinson III said he fielded offers from other teams after the draft, with teams attempting to talk him out of going to Oakland, but to no avail. It’s a toss-up as to which Atkinson was more thrilled with the end result.
“I think it was a draw,’’ Atkinson III said. “I could see it in his face. Right after the draft, he knew I was coming here without any doubt so we both basked in the moment.’’