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James Atoe: Opportunity Knocks


“This guy is a potential top five NFL draft pick.”

Not just NFL first round, according to Head Coach Steve Sarkisian, but “top five.”

If a raw player had the physical potential to become a high first-round draft pick by his senior year, his redshirt sophomore year would be a good time to make a move.

That effectively begins now.

After James Atoe was named defensive lineman of the game for the South in the Oregon Les Schwab All-Star Game, Atoe’s plane could no longer come in under the radar when it arrived at SeaTac where Atoe packed his 355 lb. physique into an awaiting vehicle which took him to Montlake.

At Washington he would labor in obscurity as a redshirt O-lineman for a couple of years. There was that night, however, when Colin Tanigawa, Atoe and Colin Porter stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidelines watching the Washington defense make ASU look better than they were. Atoe, in the middle, was the largest of the three and the combined width of their shoulder pads was over 12 feet. At that moment, the future loomed.

As with height in basketball, Atoe arrived with something football coaches can’t coach: Big. He has subsequently been spending considerable time under the tutelage of Strength Coach Ivan Lewis and has transformed from a 6’ 6” athletic but relatively weak 355 pounder with an eight-foot wingspan to a quicker 6’ 6” relatively strong 335 pounder. It’s Spring Ball time, and former starter Senio Kelemete has graduated, while Tanigawa and Porter are recovering from surgery. Erik Kohler is still dinged up.

What’s that sound at the door? Is that opportunity knocking?

In high school, Atoe played both ways and also handled long-snapping on punts. His high school coach, Andy Codding, said Atoe was pretty good at long-snapping and could do it at Washington should the need arise. It doesn’t look like the need will arise but, as Tanigawa, Porter and Kohler have shown, players unexpectedly get injured. Atoe was also a good basketball player with a quick burst. Former Husky Coach Doug Nussmeier was present (one of many trips) when Atoe scored 22 points with 10 rebounds in a game against Hermiston. According to Coach Codding, “that sealed the deal.” The Husky coaches were genuinely excited when Atoe’s LOI arrived.

Coach Ivan Lewis thinks Atoe is ready now to make a run. The first string strongside tackle is Ben Riva presently. For spring ball, James Atoe has been penciled in at first string strongside guard (Porter’s slot last season), while the second string line-up has Atoe at strongside tackle behind Riva. Atoe showed in high school that he can also play center. Obviously, the coaches are going to take a long look at the big guy with future upper first round NFL draft potential.

Meanwhile, how well Atoe does will remain to be seen…at least for a week. Next week the pads come on, things start getting serious and the time will have arrived when the men are separated from the boys. It will get very competitive. When that happens, Big can come in handy. As Sarkisian suggested, Atoe has the potential to dominate.

Opportunity knocks.