I met Austin Atkinson more than three years ago sometime after he passed the NFLPA agent certification exam in 2012. An attorney in South Carolina, Austin was enthusiastic, smart and details-driven, like dozens of new contract advisors. He’d also made alliances with several people in the football business before he’d gotten certified, which is always wise.
It was through these alliances that Austin found himself helping out with the Medal of Honor Bowl, a college all-star game that ran for two seasons (2014-2015) and saw 20-plus players get drafted and hundreds go to NFL camps. The game is also the place where Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler first caught the eye of scouts. Though it didn’t get the headlines of the bigger and more traditional games like the Senior Bowl and the Shrine Game, the game became known, in short order, for its abundance of sleepers and the hospitality organizers showed to NFL personnel.
This year, the MOH Bowl moved to a more traditional bowl format, leaving Austin without a personnel role. However, he was able to assume the same role with another game, the Tropic Bowl, which launched in January. Once again, the game quickly gained traction with scouts, and Austin earned praise for the roster he (largely) assembled for game owner/founder Michael Quartey.
Whenever you handle such a role, you get interesting insights on the business and get to see a side few see. It’s almost like real-life fantasy football on the college level. There’s nothing more rewarding than providing a draft hopeful with a platform for achieving his dream. With this in mind, I asked Austin to take the reins of SIF for a day and give readers a peek into his world.
I’ll let Austin take it from here.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced personally when entering the personnel world was fighting the perception that I was ‘just an agent’ and couldn’t possibly know that much about evaluating talent. After all, it was only a year earlier that I had been the guy on the other end of the phone lobbying other all-star game directors to invite my players to their game.
“To overcome this, I made a decided effort to visit as many college campuses as I could to personally visit with coaches and pro liaisons. In year one, our personnel director, Cal McCombs, and I visited something like 55 college football programs between the months of August and November. We were determined to make absolutely sure that they knew about our game, and that we were very interested in their players. During these trips, we would often run into NFL scouts or scouting directors who were there to check out the crop of senior prospects. In a few lucky instances, we would be allowed to head to the film room with the scouts before practice started.
“To be able to sit and dissect game film with a room full of NFL scouts was an education that is impossible to put a price tag on. Truth be told, I mostly just sat there quietly and absorbed every bit of information that they were willing to share. Whether it was finding faults with a certain defensive lineman, or expressing concerns over another player’s off-field issues, I made plenty of mental notes on the litany of things that a scout looks for when evaluating a prospect.
“The other major obstacle that I faced was being affiliated with a ‘new’ all-star game that didn’t have a long track record, or even a national television deal, when I first came on board. I chose to instead view these things as a positive, since we had not developed some of the bad habits that some of the more established games had developed over the years. Essentially, we had a clean slate to make a good impression on the scouting and agent community.”
Austin will be back Friday to wrap things up, discussing some of the issues he faced in his campaign to advance his game (and his personnel work) in the face of tremendous competition. Back tomorrow.