After seeing limited action a year ago for ASU — but shining when he did get on the field — former Mitchell County star Jessie Atkins is quickly emerging as a big-time playmaker for the Rams and currently leads in receiving through two games. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHO: Albany State (1-1) at Elizabeth City (N.C.) State (0-2).
WHAT: Rams’ second road game.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Elizabeth City, N.C..
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
ONLINE: For live scoring updates go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — Albany State receiver Jessie Atkins knew exactly what was going to happen when he caught a short pass in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-9 loss to Wingate.
He was going to score.
“I visualize everything before it ever happens,” the former Mitchell County star and Camilla native said after practice Tuesday. “When I caught the ball, I kind of knew the safety was coming over the top because I had seen it in my peripheral vision. When I saw him break over top, I made a move to one side of him.”
And just like that, the sophomore receiver had the best catch of his short college career.
Atkins led ASU in receiving Saturday with six catches for 144 yards, including the 62-yard TD reception that gave the Rams some brief hope during an otherwise dismal afternoon.
“He has worked hard this summer, and I am glad he is getting good results now,” ASU head coach Mike White said. “I like some of the throws (quarterback David) Kooi made to him, and it was a big play by Jessie to not only catch it but take it all the way.”
Atkins, who is the slot receiver, started two games last season as a freshman and began to get more playing time after senior wideout Octavius Staton went down with a season-ending injury.
Toward the end of the season, Atkins was a key part of the passing game and had his first touchdown in the conference championship game in November against Miles — a 21-yard catch from Stanley Jennings in the second quarter that gave the Rams their only lead of the game.
And it’s only gotten brighter for Atkins this year.
He was also the team’s top receiver in the season-opening win against North Greenville, catching three passes for 54 yards.
“He is just a sophomore receiver, but he has probably been the most consistent receiver this year,” offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said. “I know we are just talking about two games, but he played well in both games. I hope he can continue to push it forward.”
Kooi is one of the biggest reasons Atkins has emerged as one of the go-to receivers in ASU’s offense.
Kooi transferred to ASU from Florida Atlantic a month before the season opener, but it took Atkins and Kooi little time at all to get comfortable with each other in the passing game.
“Things started clicking during camp, and we got on the same page,” Atkins said. “He got my drift, and I got his drift. He understood my style of play, and I understood his style of play. Things started working smoothly the more we played together in practice.”
And Atkins believes Kooi has made him a better receiver in the process.
“David is the type of quarterback who looks for holes in the defense,” Atkins added. “He would tell me to replace (the holes in the defense). I started catching on to it and the way he was playing. He looks for where the defense is messing up at, and wherever they are messing up I just replace them.”
Kooi took notice, especially during Saturday’s game.
“We talked a lot about stuff he needs to adjust playing slot, and he did it and got rewarded,” Kooi said. “I told him to sit in holes and get himself open, and he did it. You have to reward him with the ball.”