Atwell takes a chance, earns starting spot

Amy Carton
Michael Atwell fires a throw to one of his receivers last season for Hope College in Holland, Mich.

Once Geneseo’s Michael Atwell found his home at Hope College for his academic career, he decided to take a chance on the football field, and will now return as the team’s starting quarterback for the third straight year.

“I certainly had a good experience playing football and sports in Geneseo, and once I decided to go to Hope I thought I should tryout,” said Atwell. “I think it was because of the experience in high school that I valued and enjoyed that I decided to take a chance.”

Atwell was in the running for the starting quarterback position his freshman year and ended up being the No. 2 quarterback that year. He is now preparing for his senior season and his third year as the starting quarterback.

“I think the discipline I learned at GHS put me ahead of the other players at Hope,” said Atwell. “I was able to run an offense and understand it quickly, signal quickly and that is what put me ahead. What put me ahead was my ability to retain the information.

“I wasn’t actively looking at schools to play, but some schools contacted me,” he said. “Football didn’t have much to do with my college decision. My final schools were in a plethora of different locations and academic styles, and also were some where I could play football.

“After the fact, I decided to play football, too. It was just the luck of the draw. I had a great experience, fell into a good coaching staff and players with the same attitudes.”

At Hope, Atwell entered a system where they passed the ball 20 to 30 times a game compared to the four or five times a game at Geneseo.

“This is the best. This is the life. I love being a throwing quarterback,” he said. “I love the pressure now that I am use to it. I am more impactful on the game and I love being able to work on different routes and develop relationships with receivers. We have a balance of pass and run and we depend on each other. I have really enjoyed this experience and I don’t know if I would want to do it any other way.”

Atwell said it was an adjustment, however, to get use to throwing the ball more, being a bigger part on the team and in a more pressured position.

“It took me a year of starting to get confidence and the mentality down,” he said. “I have a lot more pressure on me now because things depend on your performance.”

After a freshman year of learning, Atwell took over the reins of the offense his sophomore year.

“I started as a sophomore and did alright, but I didn’t have the greatest stats,” said Atwell. “It was a season of learning and learning from my mistakes. I relied a lot on my older teammates to help me out. By the end of my sophomore year, I was ready to be that guy to call the plays and run a no-huddle offense.”

Now Atwell feels at home in his position and it is almost second nature for him.

A highlight for Atwell was during his sophomore year when he had his best game of the year and Hope beat the three-time defending champions after having had a horrible game the week before.

“That was good for me to comeback from facing adversity,” he said.

A challenge for Atwell has been maintaining a balance between football and school.

“The biggest challenge has been trying to maintain a balance because there are people who are looking to get jobs, go to medical school, but others are looking to go to the NFL or semi-pro. I have to try to maintain a leadership role on the team and lead by example, while maintaining academic excellence at the same time is difficult. It is tough to maintain this balance and keep everyone motivated because they all have their different reasons for playing football.”

Atwell feels his freshman year was one of his better years at Hope because of the people he surrounded himself with and it was a year where he could sit back, learn and relax.

“A year off of not being quarterback was a nice break, but I wouldn’t want to take more than a year off,” he said. “It was a good learning experience and I got to learn under the senior quarterback. I really enjoyed it.”

During his freshman year, he played in four games and had five completions, 12 attempts, one interception and 41 passing yards.

In his first year as starting quarterback, Atwell played in 10 games as a sophomore, had 129 completions, 10 interceptions, 1,628 passing yards and six touchdowns.

“(My sophomore year) was definitely nerveracking because I got thrown into a leadership role and it was stressful,” he said. “It was stressful to work to earn the respect of the team and the older ones on the team. I made plenty of mistakes, but learned from them pretty well.”

Last season as a junior, Atwell saw action in all 10 games where he had 42 carries and three touchdowns on the ground; while through the air he had 177 completions with 332 attempts for 2,254 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“After having a year on the field there really were no excuses for making mistakes so there was a lot of pressure, but I was more comfortable with my teammates,” he said. “I had a fair amount of confidence going into the season. There is always room for improvement, but I had a solid season.”

As he prepares for his final season, Atwell, who was selected as a captain on the squad by his teammates, hopes to forge a better relationship between the offense and defense, win a conference championship and get into the playoffs.

“Being named captain is definitely a big deal, and even though sometimes I haven’t felt like I have been my best, my fellow players have noticed that I am doing a good job and dedicated myself to be elected to this role,” said Atwell. “I take being captain as a big privilege and definitely an honor.”

Atwell said the advice he would give any player thinking about playing in college would be to “just take a shot; just take a chance.”

“Geneseo laid a good foundation for what it is like to be part of a disciplined program with high expectations,” he said. “Just take a shot because we are ahead of a lot of people in terms of mentality and expectations for being a part of a team and excellent program. Coming into college with this discipline and attitude coming from Geneseo we have an advantage and the advantage to add to a college team. Be a difference maker.”

When looking back over the last three years, Atwell says he has no regrets of the decision he made to take a chance at Hope College.

“This has been one of the most transformative points in my life,” said Atwell. “I learned a lot about decision making on and off the field, responsibility to my teammates, coaches and school. This experience has taught me more about myself and I have become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses.

“I feel bad at times because I fell into this, but after I got involved I was totally committed and my mentality changed. I have loved it. My coaches have been great and it is a blessing it worked out like this. I am definitely lucky. It has been a great experience and I am not sure if I could ask for anything more.”