Former Gator Atkins found dead in car


Published: Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 3:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 3:51 p.m.

The turbulent and troubled life of former Florida football player Avery Atkins has come to a tragic end.

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Atkins, 20, was found dead in his car Thursday morning in his aunt's garage in Port Orange. His death came only three days after he was arrested in Ormond Beach for possession of crack cocaine. It was his third arrest in the past three months.

According to a release from the Port Orange Police Department, Atkins was pronounced dead at 9:24 a.m. at Halifax Medical Center. According to police, the cause of death was not apparent and will be determined by an autopsy. Police said there were no apparent signs of trauma to the body.

The news of Atkins' sudden and unexpected death sent shock waves through Gainesville, where Atkins had been a rising star as a true freshman cornerback for the Gators in 2005. Atkins, a former Daytona Beach Mainland standout, was the highest-rated prospect in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class.

"It's a tough one," said former UF safety Jarvis Herring, a senior on the 2005 team. "He had a great heart and he was basically a good kid. I don't know what happened.

"That guy had so much potential. That's why so many people (at UF) were on him to do the right thing. The sky was the limit for him. He could have made it to the NFL easy. He had that type of talent and all the intangibles. It was shocking when I found out he had died."

One of the nation's top defensive back prospects coming out of high school, Atkins made an immediate impact at Florida, where he saw considerable playing time as a true freshman in the Gators' depth-shy secondary. In the final regular-season game against arch-rival Florida State, Atkins intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.

Atkins was a projected starter for the 2006 season, but he dropped out of school that summer, shortly after he was charged with domestic battery on the mother of his child in Daytona Beach.

Atkins enrolled at Bethune-Cookman College and played in three games this past season.

He dropped out of B-CC and tried to make a comeback at Florida, enrolling in classes in January. But he dropped out again after only a few weeks and returned to Daytona Beach.

"All of us were wishing he would stay in school (this past winter) and then he'd have some structure in his life. That's what he needed," Herring said.

Herring said he and fellow former UF defensive back Vernell Brown became close to Atkins during the 2005 season. Herring and Brown were both seniors and tried to offer guidance to the true freshman, Herring said.

"We really took him under our wing because he was having a few problems," Herring said. "Vernell was like a big brother to him. Avery really looked up to us a lot. I have a special little place in my heart for him.

"When he was in school here, he stayed out of trouble. Everybody was trying to lead him in the right direction. He was a great dude to us. All the guys on the team took well to him. I don't know, something must have happened when he went back home."

Brown said he lost touch with Atkins after Atkins left UF the first time. He said he found out about Atkins' death Thursday morning and put an immediate call in to Meyer.

"Coach Meyer was devastated," said Brown, a former Gainesville High star. "Ever since I've known him, coach Meyer has done everything he could to help Avery. Avery was a good person. He was just kind of lost and needed guidance.

"People were wiling to help. But people can only go so far. Without the person taking the hand that's reaching out for them. ... it's sad, a sad situation. Avery had some things going on back home that were hard to relate to. It's definitely sad. You've got a guy who's 20 years old with a young child and now he's gone."

Atkins had a second chance to make it at Florida, thanks to the efforts of secondary coach Chuck Heater, who worked to get Atkins back in school in January. But like so many other things in Atkins' life, it just didn't work out.

"I called Coach Heater and he's devastated, broken up," Brown said.

UF released a statement from Meyer on Thursday afternoon.

"We are saddened to hear the news regarding Avery," Meyer said. "We share our grief with the Atkins' family and those close to them."

Former UF linebacker Darryon Robinson said he will remember the Avery Atkins he came to know during the 2005 season.

"He was just a good kid who always had a smile on his face," Robinson said. "He was a good player, a good person and a good friend regardless of what his personal issues were. It's always a shock whenever you lose a teammate and a friend."

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