By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
The University of Georgia might have nabbed a five-star lineman from the state of Tennessee in 2018, but Johnson County went and got one of its best players ever from the “Peach State” three years ago.
Blake Atwood has been a prize catch for the Longhorns since his arrival from Five Forks Middle School in Gwinnett County as a 14-year old.
He was thrown into the fire as a freshman, having to play a lot of minutes on the Longhorns’ varsity squad.
His reason for coming here was simple. He wanted to play for his favorite coach.
“I’ve always wanted to play for my dad,” said Atwood. “I love playing for Johnson County because my dad, uncle, and papaw all played here and I wanted to keep that legacy going. I have great teammates and have made some good friends. It’s been an excellent fit for me.”
His arrival might have been a great fit for him and Johnson County, but it has been a nightmare for the opposition. He ranks near the top in almost every category among Northeast Tennessee players.
Atwood is currently averaging 20 points per game, five assists, five steals, five rebounds and is shooting a sizzling 92 percent from the foul line. He is also closing in on the 1000 point mark despite missing nine games due to an injury his sophomore year. He currently has 966 points.
Things weren’t always easy for Atwood. He feels like his freshman season allowed him to prepare for this moment.
“It was a big adjustment because everybody was bigger than me and it was hard to get open,” said Atwood. “The speed was a lot faster, and the players were so much better. I had to get bigger and stronger and develop a quicker shot. I’ve been working on my outside shooting quite a bit. I’m getting a better feel for the game every time out. I’ve still got a lot to improve on.”
His dad and head coach Austin Atwood knows that No. 11 is a special player despite their family ties.
“Blake makes it so much easier because he is such a hard worker,” said Austin. “He’s a good leader, like having a coach on the floor. We depend on him to get us into our offense and made the right reads. He’s done a good job for us since he got here but I believe he can be a much better player if he continues to work in the offseason as he has in the past. He’s super quick, and that’s hard to teach.”
His teammates like Bud Icenhour and Nathan Arnold weren’t strangers when he got here his freshman season. He already had a pretty good feel for them.
“I used to spend my summers here when I was little,” said Blake. ”I loved it because I would stay in the gym and shoot while here. I was on travel teams with Bud, Nathan, Zack Eller and Troy Arnold. I played with some of the others too. This has always been a good fit for me.”
Special is something that Blake would love this season to be. He said beating Unicoi County at their place was a start.
“We needed that because it was a big game and they are really good,” added Blake. We knew the crowd would be loud and their student section rowdy. We kept our composure and came out on top. We still are learning to adjust after losing Sean Lewis for the season. That was a tough blow because he was one of our best scorers and defenders. Zack has done a great job stepping in, but it would be great to have both of them and their athleticism.”
Blake has a younger brother Carter and his step-mother Shonna. His mother, Jessica Smith still lives in Georgia.
“They had me in sports too growing up,” said Blake about his mom. “I had a goal in my driveway. I played baseball, football and anything I wanted to.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what Blake wants to do upon graduation.
“I would love to get an opportunity to play college basketball and get a good education, said Blake. “I love the game, and I love the academic part. It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the college level. I’m hoping somebody will give me a chance.”
Atwood appears to have the academic part down as well. He currently supports a 4.0 GPA while taking upper-level courses, preparing for college.
And while his dreams of playing college will probably become a reality, he knows there more work to do for the Longhorns.
“We want to win our first district game and get into the regional,” said Blake. “We also want to host a sub-state game. Johnson County has not been to the state tournament since 1984, and it’s long overdue. We’ve got a lot more work to do before I leave here.”
Atwood is a special player. Let’s just be glad he has Johnson County and not “Georgia” on his mind.