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GEORGIA DB STILL MOURNS LOSS OF OLD FRIEND ATKINS

Though his tenure at Florida was brief and troubled, former Gators defensive back Avery Atkins' life left a lasting impression on those who knew him well, Georgia safety Kelin Johnson said Friday.

The former Daytona Beach Mainland star was found unresponsive inside his car on the morning of July 5 and died an hour later. He was 20.

"It hit me hard," Johnson said during Friday's SEC Media Days. "... I got an opportunity to speak at his funeral. Two thousand people were there. Avery was loved by so many people. Whoever thought this man's life would bring so many people together? His death made me realize some things in my life I need to straighten up. It made some of my ex-teammates realize some things they need to straighten up. We have to be closer, we have to care about each other.

"I got maybe complacent myself because, yeah, I'm at Georgia and he's at Florida. It had been 1-1/2 years since I talked to him because of his ego and my ego. And that's just something growing up as young men, we don't realize our egos can hurt and bring us down.

"So (his death) brought a lot of people together. It hurt me a lot, I'm still dealing with it, but I'm working for him now. And I know I'm going to see him again one day."

Johnson, who grew up with Atkins, said despite Atkins' troubles, it never affected how he felt about his friend.

"My love for him never stopped," he said.

WHAT ABOUT THE DAWGS? Talk about no respect. Not one Georgia player was selected on the first- or second-team offense or first-team defense in the media's preseason vote. But Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said he understands.

"The one that matters the most is the end of the year," Richt said. "If we win, we'll have guys on the first team. If we don't win, we won't."

Gators receiving honors: first team - OL Phil Trautwein and DL Derrick Harvey; second team - TE Cornelius Ingram, OL Drew Miller, WR Percy Harvin and DB Tony Joiner.

EXPERT ADVICE: During one of Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer's many offseason conversations with good friend Pat Summitt, the legendary women's basketball coach gave Fulmer this advice: "You have to have a Candace Parker-type player in your program to win a national title."

Parker, a junior All-American, helped lead the Vols to a national championship this past season. Now Fulmer is hoping senior quarterback Erik Ainge might be the equivalent.

"You need a lot of good players around a Candace Parker-type player," Fulmer said. "Do I think Erik Ainge can be that type of player? I do. I think he can be the type of player our team rallies around, that he ... makes the plays that help you win a championship."

"I understand the analogy," Ainge said. "You need your big-time players to step up in big-time roles. I'm ready."

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