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8-Man Top 8: Kaleb Atkins

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  • 8-Man Top 8: Kaleb Atkins (Photo: Everett Royer/
    8-Man Top 8: Kaleb Atkins (Photo: Everett Royer/

Throughout early to mid-December Kansas Pregame contacted 8-Man football coaches in an effort to name the third annual Top 8 team of seniors for both divisions of 8-Man football in Kansas. After an overwhelming response from coaches, and once all the votes were tallied, 16 players were selected.

This is the sixth of 16 individual player profiles highlighting the Top 8 selections in each division and released in no particular order. Look for more in the coming days.

Kaleb Atkins, RB/S, 5-8, 145, Hill City

Hill City’s Kaleb Atkins was among the top two-way players in the state as a senior last fall, helping Hill City to a deep playoff run after a dominant regular season. But he has found ways to make an impact for Hill City since he first set foot on the varsity gridiron as a freshman.
During the Ringnecks’ 2019 campaign Atkins was a vital member of both the defense and special teams. From his defensive back position he tallied 64 tackles, two interceptions, six pass deflections, and three fumble recoveries. The impactful freshman also returned 16 kickoffs for a total of 213 yards.
Hill City finished the 2019 season at 6-4 with an appearance in the second round of the playoffs before losing to eventual state runner-up St. Francis .
The Ringnecks took a step back in 2020, finishing 4-4 after a tough first round playoff loss to Wichita County, but Atkins continued to show off his all-around abilities and foreshadow the dominance that was to come.
The sophomore totalled 653 all-purpose yards with four rushing touchdowns, and also had 58 tackles, two interceptions, a pass deflection and a fumble recovery.
“Kaleb's biggest strength is his versatility,” head coach Travis Desbien said. “He was equally as good playing slot, wide, or in the backfield. His versatility challenged me as a coach to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands because he is a dynamic playmaker.”
Entering his junior season in 2021, Atkins and the Ringnecks both began to hit their stride.
Atkins dominated both sides of the ball, racking up 102 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, three interceptions, 12 pass deflections, four fumble recoveries – one of which he returned for a touchdown – and a forced fumble on defense. 
“Kaleb does two things extremely well from his safety position,” Desbien said. “The first thing was evident statistically and that is his ability to be a ballhawk and playmaker in zone coverage. The other thing he did exceptionally is play the run aggressively, particularly on the edge. Rarely were teams able to run sweeps or get outside on us because Kaleb flies up to play the run.”
Meanwhile on offense, he recorded 834 rushing yards with 13 TDs and 558 receiving yards with eight more scores. He also averaged 28.5 yards on 17 kick returns.
The Ringnecks finished the season 10-2, with one loss coming against a talented Wichita County team, and the other coming in the state semifinals against eventual state champions Meade 48-34.
As a senior last fall Atkins continued his individual success. Defensively he totalled 88 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, 12 pass deflections, and an incredible 10 interceptions. He returned the picks for a total of 264 yards and a TD.
On offense Atkins gained 837 yards rushing with 17 TDs on 9.3 yards per carry, caught 54 passes for 882 yards and 13 TDs, and went 1 for 1 on the year as a passer with an additional score. 
In the return game he also continued his impact, averaging an unbelievable 53.4 yards and scoring three times on five kickoff returns to go with an additional touchdown on five punt returns for a 19-yard return average.
“Kaleb is one of the shiftiest and hardest to tackle players I've had the honor of coaching,” Desbien said. “Although he is extremely small, he breaks arm tackles with the best of them and is extremely dangerous in the open field. Kaleb also possesses an extreme competitive desire. He is a very quiet young man by nature, but his desire to compete and win everything he does is evident by peers and opponents.” 

Despite playing a stacked schedule with only two teams below .500, Hill City again finished 10-2 and were knocked out in the state semifinals by the soon-to-be state champs Wichita County. Two of the Ringnecks victories came against a scrappy Trego team coached by former Southeast of Saline state championship-winning coach Pat Haxton.

“Kaleb was so good on both sides of the football,” Haxton said. “He plays with a passion and intensity that is hard to match. So many times we would be in place to make plays against him and he would find a way to get away. It happened so many times the last couple years. Just a really, really good high school football player.”

Atkins is considering taking his abilities to a college field but is still waiting on the right offer. 

“Kaleb's versatility will be impossible to replace,” Desbien said. “What he did for us last year will take multiple individuals to replace. He was so versatile that if anyone outside a lineman went down we could shuffle things around and not miss a beat because he could play any skill position on the field. Those types of players are rare and impossible to replace.”