UGA kicks off signing day with 2 surprises (UPDATED)

TE Hunter Atkinson

TE Hunter Arkinson

UGA had two big surprises to kick off signing day.

The first was Isaiah McKenzie, the 4-star wide receiver from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who committed to UGA over Ole Miss and Virginia Tech. McKenzie got an offer from UGA on Monday, and picked he Bulldogs because his best buddy is his high school teammate at American Heritage, Sony Michel, the 5-star running back who committed to UGA last summer.

The second surprise was West Hall High School tight end Hunter Atkinson, who flipped from Cincinnati to UGA after getting an offer from Mark Richt on late Tuesday night.

“Basically, he was going to go to Cincinnati but Georgia came in and contacted me last yesterday evening,” West Hall coach Tony Lotti told the AJC. “Coach Richt called and said a spot had opened up. They had said all along if they could free up a spot, they wanted him. I guess some developments yesterday evening freed up some spots.”

The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder was one of the state’s most overlooked prospect but got recent offers from Cincinnati, Purdue, Louisville and — on Wednesday morning — UCF.

Atkinson also sparked interest from Georgia Tech, and had grayshirt offers from Alabama, Auburn and UNC, among others, to enroll on scholarship in January 2015. He committed to Cincinnati a few days ago while on an official visit, but was hoping for a last-minute call from UGA.

“He was very excited to get that call,” Lotti said. “He has wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog since he was a kid. I’m so happy it has worked out for Hunter the way it has. He had a great relationship with the Cincinnati coaches. They were wonderful to him. But when Coach RIcht called, the kid was able to fulfill a lifelong dream, and he felt like he needed to take it. Anytime a kid can realize a dream, I think that’s a good thing.”

“For a kid growing up in Georgia, they have dreams of playing at Georgia Tech or Georgia. I grew up in this state. Fortunately for this kid, his dream of playing for the University of Georgia has come true. When Coach Richt called him, that was the phone call he had been waiting on for his entire life.”

Atkinson was recruited by UGA to play tight end. He is the second tight end for this recruiting class, along with Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte.

“He is going in as a tight end,” Lotti said. “His whole attitude is that he hopes he gets the opportunity to compete for the tight end spot, which he has been told will be the case. However, he will play wherever they want to help make the University of Georgia successful. I could see him maybe earning a spot on the defensive side. And who knows? He may grow another couple of inches and play on the offensive line. He’s still growing in his body.”

Hunter Atkinson (247sports)

Hunter Atkinson (247sports)

Atkinson was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at several college scouts, and we wrote several times how we didn’t understand how Atkinson didn’t have 20+ D1 offers. Look at his film.

This past season, Atkinson caught 51 passes for 740 yards and 11 touchdowns. Atkinson is rated as a 3-star and the state’s No. 80 overall prospect.

“Georgia is getting a big and physical kid who has exceptional hands and moves extremely well,” Lotti said. “Like I said, his best football is in front of him, He was the talk of the North-South all-star game – being as big and physical as he was, but also with how soft his hands were.”

Cincinnati was understandably disappointed by the news. “They didn’t take it very well,” Lotti said. “I believe in doing the right thing. So when this started breaking last night, I called them and gave them the heads up. I think they are really good people, and I can understand why they are disappointed because they knew he was a sleeper. They’ve said it over and over that they felt like he was a steal. They’re disappointed, and I’m disappointed for them, but this was a kid who wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream.”

UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo on Atkinson: “Hunter’s a guy that obviously we got on late so a lot of you guys may or may not have known about him, but he is a big, athletic kid. Daniel Inman, one of our giant GAs, is like 6-7, 315. Those guys were standing beside each other and they looked like clones. Obviously he doesn’t weigh as much as Dan, but he’s 6-6 around 250, 255 pounds. He’s a guy we started watching tape on in the middle of the season that did a little bit of everything. He lined up at receiver, he lined up at tight end, he lined up as a wildcat quarterback. He’s a big athlete. I really don’t know how big this guy’s going to become and what he’s going to become. Like I told him last night, we’re expecting you to come in and get ready to play. I believe he’s got a chance to do that. I believe he’s an SEC football player. With the way recruiting’s going now and early offers and early commitments, sometimes these late bloomers you sometimes miss out on him. Fortunate enough we were able to offer that guy and he’s part of the Bulldog family.”

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— By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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