By Alex Byington

Harker Heights Herald

Emery Atkisson still remembers the cold of the sub-freezing temperatures.

Holding his frozen medal bat, an 11-year-old Atkisson stood shivering at home plate as his father fed ball after ball into the pitching machine on a blistery mid-December morning at Davis Field off W.S. Young Drive in Killeen.

All alone out on the field, the younger Atkisson asked his father the simplest of questions.

"Dad, why are we out here?"

His father's response was just as simple and to the point.

"Son, this is what it takes to play college baseball," Mike Atkisson replied.

Standing in front of friends and family inside the Harker Heights secondary gym, the Knights senior infielder retold that story of dedication Wednesday afternoon after completing a mission he began that cold, winter morning seven years ago - when Atkisson signed a letter of intent to play college baseball at Stephen F. Austin.

"I've loved the game since Day 1, so I had no trouble going out there ... but obviously as an 11-year-old over Christmas break, you might have (preferred) to sleep in a little bit," Emery Atkisson joked. "But I'm definitely not complaining right now."

A four-year starter for Cunningham, who coached his father Mike when he went to high school at Ellison, Atkisson was an impact player from the moment he hit the field at Heights.

"When he came out, he was a different type of freshman," Harker Height coach Glenn Cunningham said. "He wasn't laid back, he wasn't timid. He came out with a bunch of determination and you saw the leadership qualities in him right away. And the work ethic he had was tremendous."

That work ethic finally revealed its dividends when Atkisson finally put pen to paper.

"I just took such a weight off my shoulders that I know for sure where I'm going, now I can play stress-free," Atkisson said. "I'm just really fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity."

Despite a rough season in which the Knights will miss the playoffs for the second straight year, Atkisson has paced the team with four home runs and 19 RBIs, along with a .319 batting average, a .402 on-base percentage and a .597 slugging percentage.

"(I remember a time when) he'd come home after a doubleheader, having played two games and been away five hours, most kids want to go home and relax," Cunningham said. "But if he had a bad day, (it was) 'Coach, can you help me here?'"

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