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Former Oakland Raiders football player George Atkinson, center, stands with his two twin sons George III, left, and Josh, right, in Livermore, Calif., on Thursday, May 7, 2009. Granada High sophomores George III, and Josh, are budding track and field sprint stars. Both are likely to be competing in this years state track meet. (Doug Duran/Staff)

LIVERMORE — It was barely four years ago when George Atkinson — who once raced the great Bob Hayes while running track in college — decided to show his twin sons who was the fastest in the family.

"They used to talk about how fast they were, and I'd tell them how fast I used to be," said the one-time Raiders strong safety, who played for the team from 1968-77. "It turned into a challenge."

George III and Josh were just 11 or 12 then, and dad gave them a two-yard lead in a 30-yard dash. Atkinson, approaching 60 at the time, prevailed.

"I told them, 'Don't you ever again challenge me to a race,'"‰" he recalled.

These days, it's dad who avoids the rematch. George III and Josh, sophomores at Granada High, have become two of the Bay Area's fastest young sprint talents.

"He wants no part of us now," Josh said, laughing.

"There's smack talk here and there," his twin brother said, "but it's not serious."

At 62, Atkinson has retired undefeated.

"The trophy hangs in my room," he joked.

From now on it will be George III and Josh collecting the hardware. George qualified for the CIF state track and field meet in the 200 meters as a freshman last season and has run 21.56 seconds this spring to rank No. 2 among the nation's sophomores. He also has a 10.72 clocking in the 100, placing him among the state's best.


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Josh, three minutes younger than his twin sibling, is faster out of the blocks but doesn't boast George's finishing strength. His quickest wind-legal 100 time is 10.93, but he may truly blossom in the 400 (he's broken 49 seconds in a relay split).

"For this year, his best shot to get to state is in the 400," Granada coach Brad Morisoli suggested. "They're both awesome young men. It's just their second year of track, and they're absolutely dominating."

With the East Bay Athletic League trials set for today at Granada, it's worth noting neither brother ever settled into a starting block until a year ago. Even now, track is little more than a hobby, a way to stay in shape and improve their speed for football.

Both said they're targeting football in college and would pick the NFL over the Olympics.

"It's something to do," said Josh, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder who plays defensive back and wears his dad's No. 43. "I like track a lot, but football is where my heart's set."

George agrees. At 6-2, 180 pounds, he plays running back and wide receiver. Both already are receiving recruiting letters from dozens of interested collegiate football programs.

"Their whole life has been football," Morisoli said. "They're Division I athletes."

During his days at Sol C. Johnson High in Savannah, Ga., the elder Atkinson ran 9.9 for the 100-yard dash. He was fast enough at Morris Brown College to get into the conference finals against Florida A&M star Hayes, who later won two Olympic gold medals and had a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.

"He did not lose races," Atkinson said.

Now it's the Atkinson brothers who rarely lose. Josh hopes to follow his brother to the state meet, and George's goal is to reach the final in the 100 and win the 200 state title.

Big George Atkinson knows the days of challenging his boys to a race are over.

Contact Jeff Faraudo at jeffscribe@aol.com.