Meeting with success at JSU
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
It was the fall of 2002 as Hartselle High senior Ben Atchison had just left a meeting of the Tiger defensive players with assistant coach Larry Peck. Atchison commented to Peck about having "too many" meetings each week.
"You haven't seen anything yet," Peck replied. "If you go on to play in college you'll have lots more meetings than we do now."
Atchison recalled those words this year as he prepared for each game of his freshman season at Jacksonville State University.
"I see he's right," Atchison said. "We meet all the time. I'm on the kick return and kick coverage units besides playing linebacker. I have kick return meetings, kick coverage meetings, linebacker meetings and then the defense has a meeting too. It seems like it's all we do sometimes is meet."
A typical day for Atchison consists of a 6:30 a.m. workout in the school's weight room, followed by breakfast, classes until noon and then the meetings and practice begin.
After practice the team meets again to watch film of the days drills.
"I'm learning the game is much more than physical," Atchison said. "We watch films of practice and go over our mistakes. When we meet for the special teams units I'm on. It helps us be prepared and know where we should be on the field. The coaches here say the game is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical. I'm beginning to see it's true."
"When you watch so much film, you begin to see things you didn't see in high school. In high school I used to watch the running back to see where the play was going. Now I've learned you can read the lineman, look at their stances and see where the plays headed. I've learned you play more with your eyes in college than you do in high school."
The preparation is paying off for Atchison, who redshirted in 2003. He recorded 16 tackles and assisted on seven others in a back-up role at linebacker this season. Atchison's biggest moment of the year came when he recorded his only sack of the season against Tennessee-Martin.
"There's a tradition here of handing out a black jersey to defenders who make a big hit," Atchison said. "I got one this season when I basically ran over the running back who was supposed to block me and I sacked the quarterback for an eight-yard loss.
"I got the jersey the next week at practice. It's the best memory of this season for me, because getting to wear the black jersey in practice is considered a big honor here."
Atchison got in on 25-30 plays a game this season for the Gamecocks. Besides his duties on special teams, he plays every third series at linebacker.
"We have two juniors starting at linebacker," Atchison said. "When I was being recruited they told me I could be in the rotation at linebacker as a freshman if I did everything I was supposed to do. But being a back up for now is giving me time to grow."
Atchison has grown 15 pounds since leaving Hartselle. He plays at 200 pounds now, up from the 185 pounds he played at with the Tigers. Atchison still has fond memories of his days playing at J.P. Cain stadium.
"My whole senior season was awesome," Atchison said. "We made the state semi-finals. We beat Etowah in the mud, we blew out Albertville, but the best win was beating Decatur. We shut them out, 16-0. You don't shut out Decatur often. It was the biggest moment of my senior year."
Atchinson feels the key for success of the 2002 Tigers and this year's Gamecock team are the same.
"Team chemistry is the biggest factor to wining, besides having good athletes," Atchison said. "We have good team chemistry here. It's why we're winning. But we don't have the chemistry the Tigers had in 2002. That was a special team and a very special year."
Jacksonville State's season ended Nov. 27 with a loss to Furman in the NCAA 1-AA playoffs. Despite the loss, the Gamecocks finished with a 9-2 record. The nine wins were the most for Jacksonville State since 1990. Having a chance to play for a winner was the reason Atchison chose to play for the Gamecocks.
"I was recruited by five schools, but I wanted to come here because of their tradition," Atchison said. "(Head) coach (Jack) Crowe said he was recruiting players to get Jacksonville State back to the top and to win a 1-AA national championship. I hope we reach that goal before I graduate.
"Playing in the national championship game-that would be the ultimate."