Johnson was too busy, too preoccupied with college life to stay connected with his former high school teammate and close friend.
As time went on, Johnson's ego got the best of him. He was too good to pick up the phone and check on Atkins and see how he was doing. Their relationship became null and void. Then, Johnson got a call on July 5 - Atkins was dead.
"It's one of those things that you don't think about until it happens," Johnson said Friday at SEC Media Days.
"It hurts to know that we let our friendship fade, and that I didn't get a chance to see him again."
Atkins, 20, was found dead in a locked car in the garage of his aunt's house in Port Orange, Fla., almost three weeks ago. His death remains under investigation.
Nobody, not even Johnson, could've predicted how their lives would change after Johnson left Mainland High School in Daytona Beach in 2004 and Atkins did a year later.
The sky was the limit as they went their separate ways to rival schools. Johnson picked Georgia. Atkins chose Florida.
Atkins played quite a bit for a first-year freshman, and was pegged to be a full-time starter.
But he was arrested twice during his time at Florida, which prompted coach Urban Meyer to dismiss him from the team.
When Atkins was at his lowest point, he needed somebody like Johnson, but the phone never rang.
Johnson has regretted it ever since. He feels guilty that something petty like ego and distance made them drift apart. That's all he could think about when he spoke at Atkins' funeral.
The first game of Johnson's final year at Georgia is nearly a month away. His excitement level is high, but it's tempered by Atkins' death.
The two were supposed to be starting defensive backs in the SEC this season, with only Johnson reaching that plane.
"Things happen for a reason, I guess," Johnson said. "I just wish I knew the reason."
Reach John Kaltefleiter at (706) 208-2239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.