It is rare under Boise State coach Chris Petersen that a player gets a third chance to prove himself.
Junior defensive tackle Mike Atkinson is one of those lucky ones.
The 6-foot, 312-pound Canadian import was suspended the first three games of his redshirt freshman season after a DUI arrest, then was suspended for the last nine games of last season for a team rules violation.
“I felt blessed, really,” Atkinson said. “There have been times where someone gets in trouble once and he’s gone. I think coach Pete sees something in me, knows I’m a good person and he knows I’m going to try. I think it’s been working.”
Finally, Atkinson is getting the chance to show the promise he showed when he arrived in Boise and was named the defensive scout team player of the year when he redshirted.
Atkinson has started twice (against Tulsa, Colorado State) at defensive tackle with Chase Baker injured, and even was the first-team fullback against Georgia in Atlanta. He has 12 tackles (2.5 for losses) this season.
“Mike, he’s filled in for Chase, and we haven’t missed a beat with him in the middle,” linebacker J.C. Percy said. “He’s a little fire hydrant. He’s something special.”
As Baker is battling a calf injury, Atkinson is listed as a starter for Saturday’s game against Air Force. With a potent rushing attack coming to town, the big Bronco, nicknamed “Bacon” will be a key cog in slowing down the Falcons.
“I think Mike’s stepping up huge, taking Chase’s spot right now when he’s down is big for us,” said defensive end Tyrone Crawford, a high school teammate of Atkinson’s. “ ... He’s focused. He knows what he has to do school-wise and football-wise, he’s ready to do it.”
Boise State coach Chris Petersen called Atkinson “your perfect defensive tackle — not very tall, but very wide.” He had praise for the junior’s performance on the field, his ability to handle playing on the line along with the occasional snap on offense, but also was cautious about what may lay ahead off the field.
“The jury’s always out,” Petersen said. “We’re pleased with his progression, but time will tell. He’s a good kid that’s made some bad decisions. Guys like that, you’d like to give another chance. If they can do it and learn, great. If they can’t, then move on.”
It has taken more than two years, but things are finally seeming normal for Atkinson. He’s maintained a good standing with the team and is healthy after a rare subtalar dislocation in his ankle lingered after he suffered the injury in the summer of 2009.
“It was about two-and-a-half years,” Atkinson said. “I think my weight had a lot to do with it, but I’m finally feeling right.”
With his third chance, Atkinson has channeled that opportunity into better focus on the field — he dropped about 20 pounds from his frame from last season and admits his effort has increased.
“After I got in trouble, I knew I had to do everything the coaches asked of me, and I know these are my last two years,” Atkinson said. “So I focused on the weight room and taking my job seriously. I’ve practiced harder, honing in on doing something better each day.”