Finishing first in the district is not a new feat for the Westfield Mustang varsity football program as they’ve done it nine times in the past 10 years. After beating a very competitive Klein Cain team 55-41 to advance to the third round of playoffs, Westfield hopes to ride the winning wave all the way to Arlington, where they will have the opportunity to play for a state title. Leading the Mustangs this season is senior running back Taji Atkins.
“He’s a three-year starter here, one of our greatest leaders on the team and he’s got a motor on him,” said Westfield head coach Matt Meekins.
That motor he is referring to has accounted for 2,076 yards on the season with 32 TDs. With that motor, Atkins set a school record against Aldine Davis with seven touchdowns, six rushing and one receiving. He then went on to dominate in the second round of playoffs on 25 carries, racking up 403 yards against Klein Cain.
“When the ball is in your hand and your number is called, you have to perform, treat every carry like a touchdown carry,” said Atkins.
Father and Brother sources of inspiration
With inspiration from his father and brother, Atkins began playing football at five years old with the Northside Vikings. Unlike others, he skipped flag football and went straight to tackle. He played several seasons with the Vikings before moving to play with the Spring Lions. In the 5th grade, he began playing with the Houston Outlaws, which later became the Houston Third Coast Raiders in BIG League. Atkins attended Claughton Middle School and then Westfield High School. He began on the freshman team, but by his sophomore season, he worked his way up from third string to starting at the running back position on varsity.
“I was a younger player so I had to learn quickly. I busted my butt in practice and worked when nobody was watching, just putting in extra work, going overtime,” said Atkins.
Going into his senior season, Atkins took to the off-season to focus on separating himself from the competition.
“I worked out twice a day. I went to Jacory 1way for my speed and agility. I trained with Justin Allen for my weight training, and I also went to a gym called Khango just trying to separate myself and get ready for the upcoming season,” said Atkins.
Before the season not many had Atkins on their running back domination list.
“I took it personally because I knew I had something to prove. All my life I’ve been told I’m too small, so I put in the work to show and prove everybody wrong,” said Atkins. “You just have to put it on tape. In my head, I feel like there’s no such thing as too big or too small because some of the smallest players sometimes are the greatest ones.”
Atkins studies the game of Tyreek Hill, another talented athlete who wouldn’t pass the eye test, but has tape to back up his skill level.
“He’s short, but he’s one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL right now,” said Atkins.
Atkins has opened the eyes of many during his senior season and has helped his team advance to the third round of playoffs. His skill level has not gone unrecognized as he has over 16 offers.
“It feels great. It shows me that I’m slowly accomplishing my goals. My goal this year was to get my name out there, and if you look at my tweets, I always said, if you don’t know me now, you’ll know me when it’s all said and done,” said Atkins.
College choice still undecided
After withdrawing his commitment from Rice University, Atkins is currently looking for a program that has great hospitality, makes him feel at home, has great educational programs, and can develop him into a better young man while preparing him for the world.
While in school Atkins plans on studying sports medicine.
“I realize one day, sports have to come to an end. If the game was to end tomorrow, at least I’d still be able to be around the game and just learn more about the human body,” said Atkins.
While looking back and seeing how far he has come, Atkins offers this advice to the next generation of talent.
“Put in the work, everything will pay off,” said Atkins. “I know it’s going to be times when it’s hard, but it’s all worth it in the end. Just grind.”
About Taji Atkins
Position: Running back
Height & weight: 5-feet-9, 180 pounds
Players he studies: Tyreek Hill (Miami Dolphins), Chris Johnson (retired), Tavon Austin (Houston Roughnecks)
Favorite artist: NBA YoungBoy
Favorite subject: Precalculus
Shout-outs: God, family, Westfield High School, Offensive line