By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - When Montavious Atkinson arrived at Auburn in 2015, he was a 185-pound safety.
Two years in the weight room and Wellness Kitchen have transformed him into a 220-pound linebacker.
“Couldn’t skip [any meals],” said Atkinson, who made his first start against Vanderbilt last season. “Had to hit the weights extremely hard.”
Atkinson brings a defensive back’s speed to Auburn’s linebackers, evidenced by his 4.5 tackles for loss among 30 stops in 2016.
“I just had to come here and learn the fundamentals, but I’ve always been a fly-around type guy,” he said. “I knew I had to come in and show what I had, continue to get better every day.
“My biggest thing is confidence. When I’m out there, I’m comfortable. I’m not out there panicking. They give me the play. I get in and I execute. But I still have a lot of things to work on.”
Atkinson likes the energy Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams brings to practice.
“I’m a high-energy guy myself,” Atkinson said. “I like to run around, hit, be loud. Being able to be coached like that is really good.”
Atkinson’s attributes make him a natural for Auburn’s special teams units.
“I have a lot of energy,” he said. “I never really get tired.”
With returning starters Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Tre’ Williams having combined for 32 starts, Atkinson provides experienced depth to a unit that helped Auburn field a defense that ranked seventh nationally in 2016.
“It feels good because the coach has confidence in all of us and he can put whoever he wants out there and we’ll get the job done,” Atkinson said.
“The mindset is to be better than we were last year, to be one of the best linebacking corps in the nation,” he said. “We have to set the standard higher than it was last year. We can’t relax. You’ve got go get better every day.”
In Auburn’s first preseason scrimmage, the first-team defense picked up where it left off last year, generating several three-and-outs.
“I think we did pretty good,” Atkinson said. “Everybody was flying around. Everybody was doing their job. There were still a couple things we had to work on. [Coach Williams] still critiqued us on a lot of things. That’s what we have practice for. We’re trying to get better at those things.”
“It’s very important,” Atkinson said. “We’ve got the first-team guys, the guys the coaches show confidence in. It’s the second team and third team, we’re trying to get everybody on one page.”
To strengthen their connection, Auburn’s linebackers socialize together away from the athletics complex, including a recent trampoline outing.
“This is like the closest bond I’ve ever been with the team,” Atkinson said. “Everybody’s bonding together. Everybody’s there for one another. We’ll just stick our necks out for each other.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer
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