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Chip TowersChip Towers

Ten@10: Reasons for freshman tight end’s departure a mystery

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Hunter Atkinson was a surprise signee for Georgia out of West Hall, and made a suprise departure out of Athens this past week. (Photo by 247Sports.com)

Hunter Atkinson was a surprise signee for Georgia out of West Hall, and made a suprise departure out of Athens this past week. (Photo by 247Sports.com)

THE TEN AT 10:

1. Georgia announced last week that tight end Hunter Atkinson, an incoming freshman from Oakwood, was quitting the team “to concentrate on opportunities associated with his long term career goals.” He’d been on campus barely two weeks.

I’ve tried to reach Atkinson or members of his family since that somewhat vague announcement in hopes of getting more details. But it appears they’re not interested elaborating, at least not at this point. I did get a chance to talk to Atkinson’s coach at West Hall High School, Tony Lotti, however.

Lotti informed me he had a brief visit with Atkinson last week, but that there is no change in the players’ status and he’s not sure if there will be anytime soon.

“There wasn’t any talking him out of it,” Lotti said. “It’s just not what he wants to do now.”

Lotti assures that Atkinson didn’t do anything wrong at Georgia, nor was he wronged. It’s apparently not as simple as that.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I really don’t know what happened,” Lotti said. “I’ve been consumed with it since the day it happened. I’ve been trying to work with Georgia’s staff, which I feel like I’ve got a very good relationship with and obviously want to keep, and (Atkinson) and his family. So I’m kind of in the middle. But the way I look at it is my job is to do everything I can to try to help provide opportunities for my players. That will go unchanged. But what they end up choosing to do with those opportunities, that’s up to them.”

2. Atkinson is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end. He caught 51 passes for 704 yards and 11 TDs to earn Class AAA all-state honors his senior season. He was lightly recruited by SEC standards, a Cincinnati commitment before Georgia gave him a scholarship offer the evening before national signing day this past February. According to Lotti, Atkinson had expressed nothing but excitement about his UGA opportunity from that day on.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Lotti said. “For whatever reason he decided that wasn’t for him. I don’t if it just wasn’t what he thought it would be or what.”

Atkinson’s only statement thus far is the one he issued through the school at the time of the announcement: “Georgia is a great school with both athletic and academic opportunities and I want to thank Coach Richt and the other coaches for their interest and all they have done for me over the past few months. I realized I have other career goals and want to pursue those interests.”

To this point, no one is sure what those interests are.

3. Georgia will recover. The Bulldogs also signed Jeb Blazevich, a 4-star prospect out of Charlotte, in the 2014 class, and have redshirt freshman Jordan Davis and converted fullback Quayvon Hicks to back up starter Jay Rome at tight end. But obviously the Bulldogs thought enough of Atkinson’s skills to offer him a scholarship.
In the meantime, Lotti said Atkinson and his family are encountering some backlash.

“It’s been a touchy situation for his family,” he said. “A lot of people are coming out with all kinds of stories. It’s unfortunate, the amount of backlash his family has endured from various sites and things like that. It’s hurtful. That’s unfortunate. But at the same time, I guess it comes down to a kid has a perception or a dream, but sometimes when that dream becomes reality it wasn’t really what he was expecting.”

4. Tray Matthews started school at Auburn this past week. As one might suspect, former Georgia assistant Rodney Garner was a big reason the safety decided to transfer to The Plains. But Garner told Phillip Marshall of 247Sports.com that shouldn’t be translated as he or Auburn condones the type of behavior that got Matthews kicked off the team at UGA.

“When this came up and I talked to him, there wasn’t any recruiting,” Garner said. “It was me telling him, ‘that’s a bunch of BS, how you behaved.’ He made some poor choices. Rodney Garner made some poor choices, but we didn’t have social media then.”

Garner said he believes Matthews will make the best of his second chance at Auburn.

“I don’t have any interest in recruiting thugs and jerks to Auburn,” Garner said. “But I do believe some kids make mistakes, even though they are actually good kids. They make poor decisions. They have to answer for it.”

Matthews must sit out next season per the NCAA’s transfer rule.

5. Condolences to Georgia football player Leonard Floyd. His grandmother, Sarah, died on Monday after a long illness.

“She really kind of held that family together,” said Rex Hodges, who coached Leonard and now his brother Devonta at Dodge County High School. “She was kind of the head of the household. She really did a lot with those boys.”

Floyd, a rising sophomore, is a starting outside linebacker for the Bulldogs. He led the team with 6.5 sacks and started eight games as a freshman last season.

6. Georgia on Monday announced the hiring Ronnie Letson for its newly-minted position of director of player personnel for football. Letson fills a vacancy on UGA’s football support staff left after the resignation of former on-campus recruiting coordinator Darryl Jones. The Bulldogs are reconfiguring duties in that area of the football office and Letson comes with much college experience.

Letson is a Norcross native and played football there in high school. He was good enough to land a scholarship offer from Ole Miss, where he was a three-year letterman as a running back and wide receiver. After graduation, Letson returned to Ole Miss as the offensive coordinator for Jacksonville State in 2010 and played a major role in the Gamecocks’ upset of his alma mater. There was a nice write-up about it by Will Hammock in the Gwinnett Daily Post.

7. If all goes well as he wraps us his English composition course at Hutchinson Community College this week, Shattle Fenteng should be on campus with the rest of the Bulldogs by this weekend.

Last fall, Fenteng was the No. 1-rated cornerback in junior college. The Grayson High graduate is expected to contend for playing time at Georgia this season but his arrival was delayed when he had to re-take the English class. The semester is scheduled to end Thursday and Fenteng hopes to arrive in Athens by this weekend

In the meantime, Fenteng took to Twitter to show Georgia fans that he’ll show up in shape and ready to compete. …

8. Georgia moved up to 15th from 19th in the latest Learfield Director’s Cup standings. The Bulldogs were able to advance based on their fifth- and sixth-place finishes in women’s and men’s track, respectively.

However, the Bulldogs dropped from third to fourth among SEC teams. Texas A&M leapfrogged Georgia, moving from 20th to 11th by winning the women’s track national championship and finishing third in the men’s competition. Florida (2) and Kentucky (13) also finished ahead of the Bulldogs.

There is not expected to be much more movement in the standings as Virginia (8) and Vanderbilt (52) are the College World Series finalists and last college teams competing. Early calculations indicate Oregon will move ahead of Georgia to 15th and the Bulldogs will end up at 16th. It’s the stated goal of Athletic Director Greg McGarity for UGA to finish among the Top 10 every season.

The $12 million renovation of Foley Field will be completed before the 2015 baseball season begins. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

The $12 million renovation of Foley Field will be completed before the 2015 baseball season begins. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

9. I talked to Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin last week for a story I wrote about the impact of the draft on his team. The Bulldogs have lost four of the six players taken in this year’s draft but are holding out hope that the final two – junior third baseman Hunter Cole and freshman pitcher Bo Tucker – will remain amateurs.

Despite the losses, which included all-everything shortstop Nelson Ward, Stricklin expressed optimism about next season. If Cole comes back they will return every other position player and will have a pitching staff anchored by Freshman All-SEC right-hander Robert Tyler.

“We feel good,” Stricklin said. “We feel like we’ve made some progress. We feel like we’ll be a little more athletic next year. We have a lot of young guys. Freshmen become sophomores, and we feel like a lot of our freshmen can play right away. We need to take another step forward, and for us, forward means getting to a regional.”

Meanwhile, construction on the $12 million renovation of Foley Field is well underway. Access to roads on either side is blocked with cranes and construction equipment. When Stricklin and staff bring in recruits for visits, they have to view the facility from Kudzu Hill. The project is due to be completed by Jan. 31 of next year.

10. This & that: Once again this year, members of the Georgia football team will visit Camp Sunshine, a camp that provides normal activities for children with cancer. Two different groups of players will make the trip to Rutledge, the first this Wednesday and second on July 2. … Sentencing for Gregory Crabtree, the convicted conspirator in the Ponzi scheme that ensnared former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, is Tuesday in Athens. … Georgia volleyball coach Liz Stemke gave birth to her second child earlier this month. Edmond Gustav Stemke was born on June 3. He weighed 10 pounds, 12.8 ounces. Stemke and her husband Kevin Stemke also have a daughter, Kerrigan Jane, who is 3.

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