SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Avery Atkins’ technique is all wrong.
When most kickers launch into a ball on a kickoff they make a hurdling motion with both feet coming off the ground, imparting as much weight and energy into the ball as possible.
“I pretty much eliminate that from my kick,” Atkins said Sunday at Fiesta Bowl media day. “I hit it and my leg shoots straight down to the ground. It’s not as explosive as straight leg power.”
It may not be the classic way to kick off, but there is no question it has worked exceptionally well this season.
According to LSU special teams coordinator Greg McMahon, Atkins leads the nation with a 91.4 percent touchback rate (64 of 70). His five kickoff returns allowed for a total of 120 yards was also the nation’s best.
“We get graded on each kick,” Atkins said. “I told coach McMahon to give me a minus if it doesn’t go through the end zone.”
Not surprisingly, McMahon has not wanted to change a thing about the way Atkins kicks.
“Sometimes you can screw good talent up,” McMahon said. “I’m sure every year he’ll evolve, but right now let’s not mess with him.”
Like senior-place kicker Cole Tracy, a Lou Groza Award finalist, Atkins has been a hallmark of the Tigers’ vastly improved special teams this season.
Surprisingly Atkins, an Auburn, Alabama, native and life-long fan of those Tigers, decided what was best for him was to get away from home and expand his horizons. Neither school offered him a scholarship, but LSU’s recruiting process was aided by the fact long-time LSU football administrator Sam Nader was coached at Auburn by Atkins’ grandfather.
“It was a risk I wanted to take,” Atkins said. “I felt it was time to grow up and be my own person. Once I visited LSU, it was an easy decision.”
With Tracy’s eligibility up after Tuesday’s game with UCF, the competition begins to be LSU’s starting place-kicker for the 2019 season between Atkins, Phoenix native Connor Culp and incoming freshman Cade York.
“We’ll see where Avery’s at,” McMahon said. “He could evolve into being a punter as well, and a holder. His (field goal) accuracy coming out of high school was not his strength, but he works so dad gum hard I wouldn’t put anything past him.”