You don’t need to see a copy of his birth certificate to know that Luke Atlas is a coach’s son.
His response to his father’s whistle after practice Monday night at Lockport High School gave it away.
“Since I was like three years old; whenever I hear the loud whistle, I instantly know it’s him,” said the recent Wilson High School graduate and son of Football coach Bill Atlas.
Friday night, the younger Atlas will be hearing that whistle again – but this time it will be coming from the stands when he plays for the North team in the 46th Annual Kensington Lions All-Star High School Football Classic at SUNY Buffalo State.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to be playing college football,” said Luke, who committed to Alfred University in February. “But I really, really knew I wanted to play in this game. I just think it’s a blessing.”
The Atlas family has long had an appreciation for the Lions game.
Luke’s older brother, Bobby, was chosen to play in the 2020 game that was canceled due to Covid-19. Bill played in the 1990 game, was an assistant coach in 2001 and 2010 and was a head coach in 2011.
“This was something as a high schooler I really wanted to play in,” Bill said. “I played on two Varsity teams from Amherst that really weren’t good but I worked and worked and worked just so I could put up good enough stats to play in this game.”
Atlas and Wilson have enjoyed plenty of success with his two sons on the football field going 19-7 over the last three seasons.
Bobby led the Lakemen to their first trip to the stadium in 29 years during his senior season. Bill pulled up Luke and the rest of the sophomores for the game. Meanwhile, his daughter Stephanie, who was a cheerleader and his wife, Kerry, who was the cheerleading coach, – were down on the field as well.
“All five of us were on Highmark Stadium’s field for the game,” Bill said. “The game didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But it was a super greater experience. We took a photo right on the 50-yard line. That’s one full family memory that was really special.”
Atlas says he never pressured either of his sons into playing football. In fact, he originally wasn’t going to let them play until middle school. However, Bobby and Luke pushed the issue themselves and started playing earlier.
“If they ever came to me and said I don’t want to do it anymore I would’ve been fine with it,” Atlas said. “But they ended up loving it.”
Walking the line between not showing favoritism, not putting on too much pressure and making sure the lines between coach and parent don’t get blurred all provide an extra set of challenges for a high school coach when their own kid is on the team.
But the results show Bill handled it well. In fact, a few WNY coaches about to enter the same situation have called him for advice.
“I always left it on the field,” Bill said. “I never talked about bad stuff or even good stuff (football) when we were in the car or at the dinner table. It was all taken care of during practice. I didn’t want to bring that home. For us it worked.”
The occasional Varsity-JV scrimmages his sophomore year also worked out for the Atlas family and the Wilson football program as a whole.
Bobby, the Varsity starting quarterback, took the opportunity to pick on his younger brother a little bit.
“He would always try to throw me off,” said Luke, who is playing defensive back in college. “And because he was trying to throw me off it made me much better. If he wasn’t the Varsity quarterback I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Other than the game at Highmark Stadium his sophomore year, Luke’s number one football memory came this past fall against archrival Newfane. Luke came up with the game-winning interception.
“Right after I got the interception, I went up to my dad and we hugged,” Luke said.
You can count on the pair hugging again on the field Friday night – no matter the result.
The 46th Annual Kensington Lions All-Star High School Football Classic is Friday at 7 p.m. at Coyer Field, you can watch it live here.