Despite Uncertainty, Billy Atkins Prepared To Lead Mount Saint Joseph Football

During the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference football championship game against McDonogh last fall, Mount Saint Joseph quarterback Billy Atkins faced pressure from every direction. The McDonogh defense would not let up, but Atkins stood his ground.

Atkins stayed in the pocket time after time and withstood heavy pressure. He found a way to make the short, quick passes that moved the Gaels down the field and kept the McDonogh offense on the bench. That’s a big reason why the Gaels pulled out a 17-10 victory against the Eagles. Atkins simply made plays that kept Mount Saint Joseph’s offense moving.

First-year Gaels head coach Dom Damico hasn’t had much of a chance to work with Atkins, a senior headed for FCS power James Madison next year. Damico did, however, know of Atkins and was already impressed with his talents.

“I think his leadership skills are very good,” Damico said. “He’s really athletic, and he’s an accurate thrower. He’s smart, a leader, and has all the throws.”

He also worked hard in the offseason. Atkins put on 15-20 pounds, most of it muscle, and even though Mount Saint Joseph likely won’t be playing this fall, the program is hoping to play in the spring. That would give Atkins a chance to show off his skills as a senior.

Atkins is coming off a strong junior season, during which he led the Gaels to a 10-2 record. He threw for 3,089 yards and 36 touchdowns while completing 61.6 percent of his passes. He also had just nine interceptions. Throughout the season he consistently managed the offense, which is what showed up in the championship game against the Eagles.

The quarterback is hopeful that there will be MIAA A Conference football at some point before he graduates. With all of the work Atkins put in during the offseason and the strong season he had last year, he would like the chance to go out on a high note.

“I still work out almost every single day,” Atkins said. “Either way, I feel like we will play at some point.”

Atkins has stepped up as a leader and badly wants to win a second straight championship, while Damico is hoping for big things from Atkins this season. The coach cautions observers not to overlook Atkins, who is just shy of 6-foot-1, because of his height. Damico says the senior’s skill set is similar to Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.

“He’s a courageous kid and not afraid to stand in there and take the hits,” Damico said. “He’s got a lot of skills.”

Still, Damico said Atkins is, in fact, overlooked in some ways. Damico emphasized that the quarterback can make every throw and that every high school in the country would love to have a quarterback like him.

“He’s really an accurate thrower,” Damico said. “Hopefully we can get him ready for a good career at James Madison. In fact, if he wanted to, he could be a Division I punter.”

Damico also knows that teams in the A Conference will be gunning for defending champion Mount Saint Joseph. But the Gaels will be ready for that challenge whenever the season starts.

“It definitely puts a chip on our shoulder a little bit, and a target on our back,” Atkins said. “Our new coach is a great coach and a great guy.”

Last year, Mount Saint Joseph spent a lot of energy building offensive chemistry which, according to the quarterback, took a good amount of time. It could be more difficult to develop chemistry in the spring, particularly with the status of seniors such as top wide receiver Dont’e Thornton unclear heading into a potential spring season. The Gaels have some good receivers who will help the passing game if Mount Saint Joseph loses Thornton.

And the Gaels have been without Thornton before. He suffered a collarbone injury early in the MIAA A Conference semifinal last fall and missed the rest of the game. That meant Atkins needed to find others to throw to, and he did so time and time again.

Thornton was out with the same injury in the championship game, which once again forced Atkins to carry the Gaels a bit. After McDonogh cut the lead to 17-10 in the second half, Atkins kept making the right throws all over the field, allowing the Gaels to hold on for the championship win.

Atkins and some of the older players might have to step up and take more of a leadership role depending on who returns, and the season largely remains up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If some seniors decide to enroll early at colleges where they already have scholarships in place, that could leave the Gaels with holes on the roster. The same can be said for other teams as well.

But Mount Saint Joseph will certainly be looking at Atkins to help carry them.

Atkins said he and his fellow upperclassemen are ready to “have a strong role in being leaders. … We have guys here that are not just big [guys]. We are very, very fast.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mount Saint Joseph High School

Issue 264: September 2020

Jeff Seidel

See all posts by Jeff Seidel. Follow Jeff Seidel on Twitter at @JeffSeid62