Spencer Atkins traveled more than 1,200 miles in pursuit of his dream. Then, when he finally had it in his hands, it was gone.
"Of course I was disappointed, but you always look on the bright side. The sun is going to shine tomorrow," he said.
Atkins moved from Champaign, Ill., to IMG Academy prior to his junior year. His plan was to sit out the high school football season and hone his quarterback skills.
Everything was right on schedule when he enrolled at Palmetto High in the spring of his junior year. He won the quarterback job and headed into the fall of his senior season as the starter.
Then an injury and a decision by Palmetto head coach Dave Marino sent his dream up in smoke.
Chris Tuten played well when he replaced the injured Atkins in the first game. Marino decided the sophomore was a better fit at quarterback.
Atkins had to find another position.
"It absolutely was a hard decision because I knew what Spencer had gone through to try and become a quarterback," Marino said. "You feel awful because of the type of commitment he made, but I had a greater responsibility to the team, the school and the community to put our kids in the best position possible to
Atkins made things easier by not complaining or moping.
Though disappointed, he was on board to help the team anyway he could.
"I am grateful for the way Spencer handled everything. He is a truly unselfish person. I didn't have to sell him on it. He is a great kid who made a sacrifice for the team," Marino said.
Atkins didn't just give up the quarterback position. He became a jack of all trades for the Tigers, filling in at linebacker when the team had injuries there, playing special teams, running back and tight end.
Now he is settled in at tight end, a position Marino played in high school, and is getting interest from some Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including the University of Illinois.
"I always felt the right thing to do was what was best for the team," Atkins said. "I am very happy with the switch. The bright side is that I am going to college and going to be a big-time tight end. At the end of the day, it was the right decision for me."
Marino said a lot of colleges would've already offered the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Atkins as a tight end if there was more film on him at that position.
"He would've been heavily recruited as a tight end, H-back type because of his strength and skill set," Marion said. "As a tight end, you have to be able to block and catch, and he has done a good job with both. We are trying to incorporate him more into our offense. Tuten has missed him a few times and not seen him open other times, but is getting better at it."
Atkins did well at quarterback in the Kickoff Classic. In the season opener, he got hit against Venice, and his back went into spasms, causing him to miss the next couple of games.
As a sophomore in Illinois, he was the backup quarterback and most likely slated to be the starter as a junior. But he decided to train at IMG under former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.
"I consider myself an athlete first, and you've got to move on," Atkins said. "I've talked to some of the coaches at Illinois and things went well. The tight end is the best fit for me and being a quarterback has helped. I know exactly where the holes are going to be. I am working with Coach Marino on colleges. Miami of Ohio has also shown interest."
Marino runs a pro-style offense, and Atkins' skill set has enabled the Tigers to use the tight end more. He sees the position evolving as it has in the pros where pass-catching skills have become paramount for the tight ends.
"I want to use the tight end like they do in the pros," Marino said. "High school defenses aren't sophisticated enough to create those man matchups where you have a mismatch with a tight end and a linebacker. Our schemes involve the tight end. We just don't get enough opportunities."
That could all change now with Atkins as the Tigers head into their 5A-Region 3 semifinal game Friday night at Lake Wales.