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The Drill: Bluejays' Atkinson loves the game again, and his team

Minnesota West defensive end Izaya Atkinson's high school coach, former Trojan and Bluejay Vince Varpness, inspired him to attend Worthington college.

Minnesota West football player Izaya Atkinson takes on a blocker while practicing for the Bluejays.
Minnesota West football player Izaya Atkinson takes on a blocker while practicing for the Bluejays.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON -- Izaya Atkinson could easily have missed out on his football experiences at Minnesota Community and Technical College.

His story begins in the Twin Cities. He lived in Minneapolis until he was around 10 years old, then moved to Burnsville. He was out of football for a few years because of a bad coaching experience and didn’t begin his high school career until his junior year.

“I just didn’t have love for the game. I stopped playing after that and I came back my junior year,” he said.

Fortunately, his high school coach was Vince Varpness. Longtime Worthington residents will remember Varpness. He grew up in Worthington and graduated high school at WHS, then played for his father, the legendary Don Varpness, where he was a first-team all-conference strong safety selection and first-team all-state selection, too. The old-timers definitely remember Don, who coached many outstanding Worthington Community College football teams over a long and storied career.

“I chose Minnesota West because Vince Varpness told me that it would be a good fit for me,” Atkinson recalls.

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Last year when Atkinson was a freshman defensive end for the Bluejays, he led the conference for most of the season in quarterback sacks. He’s back again this year as a team leader and key member of the defense for head coach Jeff Linder.

And why did he come back? Well, he found another coach he trusted.

“I came back because I really like Coach Linder. He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had,” explained Atkinson. “And I also really like this team. I think we can do a lot of things with this team, and I hope that we can win -- win it all.”

There are several reasons the 2022 football Bluejays are optimistic. First off, they return a lot of second-year players on both sides of the football who made noticeable impacts as freshmen. Secondly, they finished the year well and think they can pick up where they left off.

Atkinson’s older brother, another highly talented football player who chose to participate in track and field at the University of Minnesota, greatly influenced him. His brother told him to work hard, and if he did work hard, everything would fall into place.

Seems like that’s paying off at Minnesota West. Atkinson is not just a star on the gridiron, but he’s also doing well in the classroom.

We spoke with this week’s Drill subject recently on the practice field of Minnesota West. You can see the video online at www.dglobe.com . Here’s a sample of the interview:

QUESTION: What’s your technique as a defensive end?

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ANSWER: “The technique in my game is just a mental thing. You just gotta get to learn quarterbacks and how the tackles play, and you just gotta know when to go, know when to stay back, and you gotta figure out if they’re running sets or they’re passing sets, if they’re a run-heavy team or a pass-heavy team. My favorite move is probably a rip -- just a rip, and I just try to get to the ball as fast as I can.”

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QUESTION: Tell us something you learned from your freshman year.

ANSWER: “What I learned from last year was that this could be my last year of playing football, no matter how good I do. ‘Cuz it doesn’t matter where you go or how good you perform; nothing’s handed to you. I just want everyone to know that I’m there for them and I try to be the best person I can be to make sure that we have a good team.”

QUESTION: So it must be going pretty well, huh?

ANSWER: “I’ve really grown into school ever since I came to Minnesota West. In high school I had a 1.9 GPA, and now I have a 3.3. So I’ve really been focusing on school.”

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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