I’m heading over to Suwanee to call tonight’s game between Roswell and Peachtree Ridge and, like me, you may recognize a few of the names on the Peachtree Ridge roster.
Among the Lions’ players are junior running back DiAndre Atwater, junior cornerback Ray Buchanan Jr., sophomore wide receiver Joe Horn Jr. and sophomore tight end/linebacker Tony “J.R.” Jones Jr.
If their names ring a bell, that’s because all of their fathers played — and starred — in the NFL.
This is nothing new for the relatively young football program at Peachtree Ridge. The school is located not far from the exclusive gated community of Sugarloaf Country Club, where numerous current and former professional athletes reside. So it would follow that some of their children would attend the local public school.
The Lions had Drew Butler, the son of former Chicago Bears’ kicker Kevin Butler, kicking for them a few years back. He’s now an all-star punter for the Georgia Bulldogs. And about the same time there was Cameron Heyward, who is now playing defensive line for Ohio State. You may have heard of his dad, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
Obviously, there are advantages to this for Peachtree Ridge, which is already one of the largest schools in the state (fifth actually). It would make sense that sons and daughters of pro athletes would inherit some of their athletic ability.
But coach Bill Ballard says it’s not always an advantage for these kids.
“I think it’s hard on them,” he said. “The expectations are naturally pretty high, especially when a guy is very, very good like Steve Atwater was. The first thing college coaches ask me, ‘Does he hit like his father?’ That’s a lot to live up to. Just because their dad’s are good athletes doesn’t necessarily mean their mama was. So it can be a lot on them.”
For the most part, it looks like these four players inherited the football-playing gene from their dads.
#27 DiAndre Atwater: The son of the greatest NFL defensive backs of all time, Steve “The Assassin” Atwater, Diandre starts a “T-back” for the Lions and is expected to be one of their most productive offensive players. He had 13 carries for 77 yards and a TD in the season-opening win over McEachern. Brother Steve Atwater Jr. starred for Peachtree Ridge as a senior last year and is now at Georgetown. Dad was a two-time All-American at Arkansas and an eight-time Pro Bowl selection with the Denver Broncos and N.Y. Jets.
#3 Ray Buchanan Jr. The son of “Big Play” Ray Buchanan of Falcons, Colts and Raiders’ game, “Little Ray” was slated to start at cornerback but missed the opener with an injury suffered in preseason camp. “A great cover guy” — of course — according to Coach Ballard, he has been cleared to play and should see action tonight.
#14 Joe Horn Jr.: Just a sophomore, he hasn’t had a chance to show stuff yet. But word is he is very reminscent of his father of the same name, a 1,000-yard-a-season receiver for several years with the New Orleans Saints and, later, the Falcons. Possibly the most upside to the whole group. Cousin Darian Horn also is a sophomore wideout for the Lions.
#88 J.R. Jones: Father Tony Jones was a Pro Bowl offensive tackle and won two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos. J.R., as family and friends call him, is just a 10th grader and plays as a reserve at outside linebacker and tight end.
First and foremost, Ballard said, “all those kids without exception are very good kids.”
So how do they feel about sharing the last names of NFL legends? I asked young Atwater, a national honor society student with a 4.0 GPA.
“It’s tough but, at the same time, I know any time I need help my dad will be there for me,” he said. “It’s more rewarding than anything.”
Atwater said Dad is more than happy to share his expertise — whether he wants it or not.
“He’s not at that many practices,” said the 5-foot-9, 195-pound back. “He comes to every game, though. And he remembers every play somehow. He has something to say about every one.”
You can be sure, these kids are listening.
Peachtree Ridge and Roswell, the two Class AAAAA powers, will be squaring off in the Channel 2 WSB-TV Sports Zone Game of the Week. Watch it live at 7:30 p.m. on WSB’s sister cable station, RTV (Charter Ch. 127, Comcast 248) or catch the replay at 1 a.m. Saturday on Channel 2.
Roswell leads the series 1-0-1. The teams’ tied for the 2006 Class AAAAA state championship, which ultimately led to the GHSA’s tiebreaker rules.