By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) When George Atkinson III’s name went uncalled through seven rounds of the NFL draft, there was no doubt where he would end up signing as an undrafted free agent.
Despite offers from several teams, Atkinson ultimately signed with the team he was always destined to join, following his famous father’s footsteps to the Oakland Raiders.
Now more than a quarter century after George Atkinson Jr. terrorized Lynn Swann and dozens of other NFL wide receivers as a hard-hitting safety with the Raiders, his son is trying to make the team as a backup running back and special teams contributor.
“I had to turn a lot of teams down,” the younger Atkinson said. “Right out of the gate, they were like, `Don’t go to the Raiders. I know you want to follow your heart but, we’ve got a spot for you here.’ But I know without a doubt this is the spot for me.”
Father and son knew this was a distinct possibility as the fifth round of the draft ended and no team had called. With two rounds remaining, they believed it might be better if the younger Atkinson wasn’t drafted so he could make sure he could sign with the Raiders.
While some sons might prefer to blaze their own trail in an organization with no connection to their father, the younger Atkinson had been waiting to put on a Raiders uniform ever since he was a kid.
“I’ve looked up to this organization and this club for a long time and there was no part of that going on with me,” he said. “I’ve looked up to my dad and wanted to follow in his footsteps but also lead my own trail at the same time. You’ve got to find that balance and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
The elder Atkinson is a beloved member of the organization for his hard-hitting play that epitomized Oakland’s style of play in the 1970s. He had 30 career interceptions and helped Oakland win its first Super Bowl following the 1976 season.
He was most famous for his hits on Swann, which led former Steelers coach Chuck Noll to refer to him as part of the “criminal element” in football.
He is now a broadcaster for the team but made a point of staying away from rookie minicamp last weekend.
“He doesn’t need that added pressure,” the elder Atkinson said. “He’s a new game altogether. The pro ranks are a little bit different from high school and college. He needs time to focus on getting adjusted to the NFL. I don’t need to be around. It’s his time. I don’t want to be a distraction to him and the team.”
The opportunity to play with the Raiders took out much of the sting of going undrafted after skipping his senior season at Notre Dame.
In three years in college, the younger Atkinson rushed for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for scores as a freshman.
“It’s not all about how you come in, but how you leave,” he said. “How you set your mark here in the league. You still have to make a team, drafted or undrafted.”
Atkinson is part of a crowded group of running backs that includes free-agent Maurice Jones-Drew, returning starter Darren McFadden and last year’s sixth-round pick, Latavius Murray.
But Oakland is searching for a returner and Atkinson III brings one attribute none of the other players competing for a roster spot have.
“I think he’s a talented athlete and he’s got a lot of speed,” coach Dennis Allen said. “He has the ability to help us on special teams also. So, I think anytime a chance to get a legacy, somebody who has the Raider blood lines, … those guys understand what it means to be a Raider. We were pleased that we were able to bring him in here.”
NOTES: The Raiders signed seventh-round picks S Jonathan Dowling, DL Shelby Harris and CB T.J. Carrie to four-year contracts. … Oakland also signed free agent DE Denico Autry and waived DT David Carter.
Updated May 20, 2014