The glory belongs to others, says Sean Atkins ’03.
It took five days before Sean Atkins ’02 understood what he had done.
Five days of friends and strangers seeking him out on the Bates campus to shake his hand and offer smiles of congratulations. Five days of reading e-mails and answering his phone.
On the night of the fifth day, Atkins sat with several of his closest friends in their apartment. The television was tuned to the Cincinnati-Louisville game. Halftime arrived and there it was, as promised.
Atkins was on videotape running for touchdown after touchdown in Bates’ big 48-28 win over rival Bowdoin on Nov. 2. Seven touchdowns scored, 302 yards gained.
The “Hidden Video” segment, a staple on ESPN, highlights outstanding performances from athletes at colleges whose football games aren’t televised. “That’s when it sunk in,” said Atkins. “Seeing it on ESPN.”
Not because he got his moment of glory. Atkins shrugs that off. The glory, he says, belongs to Bates College and the people who gave him his opportunities to get ahead.
It’s too bad it took a seven-touchdown performance to thrust Atkins front and center. Bates has struggled mightily forever, it seems, to win more than two or three games a year.
Unless you’re an alum, Bates football doesn’t show up on anyone’s radar. Until now.
Atkins is a New York City kid. The East Village, in lower Manhattan, was his neighborhood. A Boys Club scholarship got him to the Darlington School in rural Rome, Ga.
That was a culture shock, he says, laughing. Maybe it prepared him for his visit to Bates four years ago when coach Mark Harriman, recruiting his first class of student-athletes, made his pitch.
“I loved it when I visited,” said Atkins, a senior and an African-American studies major.
He wanted out of New York City, not that he had to watch his back every time he left his apartment. Violence wasn’t the problem so much as drugs and despair.
His mother used drugs and abandoned the family, which included his father and an older brother. Years later, after kicking her habit, she returned to Sean’s life.
She went to college. She got a job and remarried. She got sick from pneumonia and her body couldn’t fight it. She was 39 when she died. Atkins was at school in Georgia.
“It kind of destroyed me. I lost my faith in God and my ambition. But it made me a stronger person.”
Her initials, DGN, are tattooed on his left biceps. Before tests or football games, he rubs the letters. “To remind me of her. To remind him of someone who overcame.”
Playing at Bowdoin, he had no idea how many times he had carried the football, but knew it was a lot. He had no idea how many touchdowns he had scored but knew his team was winning.
Late in the game, he felt tired. The cold had tightened his muscles and he tried to ignore the cramping in his leg.
Yet Bates had the ball again, a first down on the Bowdoin 15 with more than three minutes left in the game. “I figured, if I can score,” said Atkins, “I’ll put this team away.”
He did, scoring on a 15-yard run to back up his words. He had talked a little too much before the game. A few Bowdoin players had visited the Bates campus for a cultural event and one was wearing a Bowdoin football sweatshirt.
Atkins took offense. With a microphone in his hand, he guaranteed a Bates win. Later, he wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut.
Winless Hamilton College was in town for the final game. A Bates win would give the team a three-game winning streak to close the season.
“It could be the start of turning this program around. When I leave here, that’s what I’ll remember.”
Atkins to the Aztec
In the last game of the fall season, Bates football beat Hamilton 37-0 to finish at 3-5.
But that wasn’t the end of Sean Atkins’ Bates football career. On Dec. 14, Atkins was part of a Division III all-star team that faced the Mexican National Team in the 2002 Aztec Bowl in Torreon, Mexico. He’s the first Bates player to perform in a postseason bowl game since the 1946 Bates team faced Toledo in the Glass Bowl.
The U.S. team, sponsored by the American Football Coaches Association, won the game, 15-9. Atkins had eight carries for 39 yards.
For game information, click on www.afca.com.