Georgia State left tackle Hunter Atkinson found motivation on the field after a loss off the field.
The 6-foot-5, 295-pound tackle saw his grandmother, JoAnn Jones, in the stands at every football game he played in during his career at West Hall High School. However, when he started his career with Georgia State in 2015, it was different.
“Now that I am in college, she’s never there,” Atkinson said. “When I look up in the stands, I don’t see her like I used to so I just wake up every day to play for her.”
Atkinson lost his grandmother to a brain aneurysm – a weakness in a blood vessel in the brain that balloons and fills with blood – in March 2015. It was the same year he joined Georgia State’s program after originally signing with Georgia the previous year.
“They did emergency surgery,” Atkinson said. “She lived for a year and a half after the surgery, but she lost all mobility in her left arm, she couldn’t walk or nothing, so it was a little different.”
The motivation Atkinson found after losing his grandmother allowed him to push through big changes, including his transition from tight end, his position in high school, to left tackle. The transition began in the spring of 2016.
“It was very challenging, very aggravating, being that I’ve never played it before,” Atkinson said. “It took a lot of me getting beat, watching film, and talking to people. It was a really rough time to go through until I figured out how to do everything.”
Since his transition, Atkinson has started 24 straight games, playing every offensive snap last season.
Now in his junior season, Atkinson finds himself in another challenge, guiding a young offensive line through a tough schedule. The Panthers start a redshirt freshman at center, right guard and right tackle. Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott noticed Atkinson’s leadership on the offensive line through his actions both on and off the field.
“He’s a sponge, and he knows exactly what to do,” Elliott said. “Very few times does he have missed assignments, so he’s able to really communicate with every single one starting from the center position to the guard even though he plays the tackle position. He can almost visualize it and get these guys through it.”
The Panthers’ offensive line allowed no sacks against Texas State in a 41-30 loss last week. Atkinson hopes to continue that through the last three games, including against a top-four defense in rival Georgia Southern.
“For the team, I hope to win them for our seniors,” Atkinson said. “You want to send the seniors out in the best way you can.”
Georgia State plays at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday