After playing linebacker for only one play as a junior, Marcus Atnip starred there as a senior. Besides earning first team all-Western Big Six honors, Atnip finished with 79 solo tackles, while assisting on another 51, had 12 sacks, 24 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, one interception and three passes broken up. More importantly, he was part of a transformation of a team that went 1-4 the year before in conference to 5-0 as a senior.
Atnip was all over the field against Quincy, including three sacks and four tackles for loss among his 13 tackles. It powered the Maroons past the Blue Devils, 35-32. A year ago, Quincy beat Moline, 72-50.
Coming off 752 rushing yards as a junior, Atnip's move to defense did not necessarily start out as permanent.
But Moline knew it had Eddie Doran returning and a good-looking sophomore in Aboubacar Barry and was going to a new offense (eventually an unbalanced spread).
Atnip had five carries for 26 yards early on. By the third game as the offense began to jell, he knew his move to defense was permanent. Instead of sulking, while admittedly being hurt that he was no longer carrying the ball, Atnip embraced his shot at outside linebacker.
“He’s so physical,” Moline coach Mike Morrissey said of the 6-foot-1, 210 pounder.
His past work on offense helped him anticipate and read things, Morrissey said.
“To his credit, he never complained, but I know he had high expectations of himself offensively,” Morrissey said. “(Not playing offense) was tough. That’s tough for any athlete.
“For him, it was something where we approached him about being able to play both and seeing how that would work. What really became evident for us was just how important he was defensively. Without him taking a break during a series here or there we just weren’t the same defense from an aggression standpoint and being a physical defense that we wanted to be.”
Atnip doesn’t see it so much as being unselfish, but rather just a football player wanting to play football.
“I just want people to see me as a person who worked hard and actually did something,” he said.
Changing the culture
Atnip takes pride in the fact that Moline rebuilt the program in his senior season.
“I definitely think we changed the culture,” he said. “Because some people didn’t want to put the work in like going in at 6:45 a.m. and lifting weights and stuff. Our class was the first one to actually get everybody together and go do that and be together as a team.”
Morrissey believes Atnip's best days are ahead of him as a football player.
Atnip said he's not close in deciding where he'll go next year. His biggest concern is not what position he will play, but rather how the school fits in with his career choice — nursing. It’s a family tradition from his great grandmother to his grandmother to his own mom, and he wants to carry it on.
“I just find it interesting,” he said. “I don’t want to do something that’s going to bore me and I don’t find interesting.”
Atnip does consider himself a leader, but not so much in a big way but a real way.
“I encourage everybody just to be their best,” he said.
— Jim Meenan