CONYERS — Like many of his fellow teammates getting an opportunity to take their talents to the next level, Heritage’s Calabria Atkins is no different.
The Patriots’ standout catcher and first baseman, who quickly made a name for himself as a sophomore both with his offense and defense, is set to continue his baseball career at Southern University, a Division 1 FCS school based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Atkins said he was originally introduced to Southern after coming into contact with head coach Kerrick Jackson and later built a more in-depth relationship with the program after conversations with assistant coach Christopher Crenshaw.
“I was playing with my travel ball team at the time, MGBA,” Atkins said. “They had a camp with a lot of college coaches there. I was already in contact with coach Jackson before then. We had touched base and were talking about the school and me visiting.
“During the season, coach Crenshaw, their assistant coach, finally hit me up and said that they had seen me play. They remembered me from the camp and saw how I was doing in high school. They ultimately wanted me to come down there and play for them and I ended up making that decision.”
His decision to choose Southern as his school of choice did not come easily for the Patriot. Truett McConnell University in nearby Cleveland, Georgia made a run at Atkins.
“I had an offer from Truett McConnell,” Atkins said. “I went up there and knew some guys there. It was a great experience. I had heard a lot about Southern and knew that their program is growing. They are building something great down there and just won a championship this year. That was kind of the deciding factor. I wanted to add onto something and potentially grow it more.”
One of the biggest challenges awaiting Atkins will be his transition from Georgia to Louisiana. But he said the change of scenery will be different, but welcomed.
“I’ve lived in Georgia my whole life, so moving out of state is going to be hard,” Atkins said. “But I’m excited about it. I’m excited to see something new and different. I haven’t really had the chance to experience anything different besides going out of town. So living out there for a few months and only coming back during the holidays, it will be different. But I’m excited to start something new.”
Having traded starts with fellow Heritage teammate Ray Joseph behind the plate, Atkins’s main position at Southern has not yet been decided. However, the team has kept an open mind about what he can potentially bring to the team.
“I talked with coach Crenshaw and asked him what they want me as,” Atkins said. “Catching, first base and pitching is what he said. I was surprised when I heard pitching a little bit. I guess they want to see what my arm can do on the mound, too. They are open to multiple positions, but right now, my primary position is probably going to be catching.”
With zero intentions of settling for a redshirt as a freshman, Akins said he is ready to battle for playing time right away, a challenge he knows will be a tough one.
“My first goal coming in as a freshman is to make a statement,” Atkins said. “It’s hard a lot of times to get playing time as a freshman. I know that will be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to making a statement.”
In order to make those goals a reality, Akins said he has been hard at work this summer improving every part of his game, both offensively and defensively.
“There is always something that you can work on going to the next level,” Atkins said. “Hitting especially. With the pitchers, guys are getting older and are throwing harder. Hitting, you have to keep working on that and I’ve been working on that as much as I can.”
Set to move in Aug. 12, Akins said he is going to miss playing at Heritage. Many of Atkins’ teammates have played alongside him since the age of 10 and later came together to bring Heritage its first state championship this past season.
“It was great growing up with them and building something,” Atkins said. “Throughout those four years, it was great to finally end on a high note. We went as far as we could go and that’s something that we always dreamed about.”
Overall, Atkins said his game has improved tremendously since first stepping foot on campus at Heritage.
“Coach (Shane) Ramsey really pushed us to be our best,” Atkins said. “Practicing every day, but also pushing us on days that we didn’t have practice. We really just tried to become the best players that we could be. That really changed things, motivated me and pushed me to get to where I am today. I’m blessed to be in this position and hopefully I can take it on to the next level.”
Atkins said he plans to major in business, but is leaving the option open to pursue computer science.