Staff Photo: John Bohn The Peachtree Ridge football team has players with three dads that played in the NFL. Seated are the dads from left to right, Steve Atwater, Joe Horn Sr., and Ray Buchanan Sr. The player-sons are standing at rear from left to right, Paris Atwater, Di Andre Atwater, Joe Horn Jr. and Ray Buchanan Jr.
When Di Andre Atwater came to Peachtree Ridge, he didn't want to tell anyone his last name. He just wanted to be known as Di Andre.
The anonymity didn't last long.
"When we first came, we tried not to tell people," Atwater said. "Eventually people found out and were like 'Oh, you're Steve Atwater's son.' It was the same when they found out about Ray-Ray's dad and Joe's. People talk about it for the first couple of weeks and then it dies down."
Peachtree Ridge's football program has three families with NFL ties. Di Andre and younger brother Paris are the sons of former Denver Bronco Steve Atwater. Ray Buchanan Jr. and Joe Horn Jr. had fathers by the same name that played for the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, respectively.
The group of NFL sons share a unique bond of natural talent and pressure that goes along with being a professional athlete's son.
"All of them are really good athletes," first-year Peachtree Ridge head coach Mark Fleetwood said. "I think they all get something from their dad."
The four Peachtree Ridge players are sons of three of the most well known players in the NFL over the last 20 years.
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Steve Atwater was known as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.
Ray Buchanan Sr. was a fan favorite going by the name of Big Play Ray and leading the Falcons to their only Super Bowl appearance during the 1998 season. Buchanan made 47 interceptions in his 12-year NFL career, including 30 with the Falcons, and is third-most in team history.
Joe Horn Sr. was a member of the Saints when they were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and made headlines for his end zone celebration when he pulled a cellphone from a goalpost. Horn is second all-time in Saints history of receptions and receiving yards.
"I respect what they have done (in the NFL). There's a lot of things you can learn from those guys," Fleetwood said. "The one thing that impressed me the most is they are all really good fathers first and support their kids. It's a pretty awesome thing."
Atwater, Buchanan and Horn made a name for themselves as three of the NFL's best players during their time.
Their sons are doing the same at Peachtree Ridge. After missing the playoffs last year with a 5-5 record, the group has helped the Lions to an 8-2 record a trip to the Class AAAAA playoffs, which begin on Friday when they host defending state champion Brookwood.
"This is another level from when I played. When I played it was a lot easier," Steve Atwater said. "Now they've got these big guys running up on them and it's a lot more competitive I think from back when I played. He's a better player than I was coming out of high school."
Di Andre leads the Lions in rushing with 607 yards and 11 touchdowns. The senior has scholarship offers to Georgia State and Georgetown, where his older brother Steven plays. Paris is a sophomore and a backup linebacker on the team. Di Andre often gets asked about his father by college recruiters, especially the big hit he made on Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football.
"Everyone will say 'What's it like being the son of the great Steve Atwater?' I'm like oh my gosh, what do I have to live up to? But it's good encouragement, too."
There's that pressure to not only perform, but be really good that Atwater, Buchanan and Horn share. Their dads made a name for themselves in the NFL and now they are trying to live up to it at the high school level.
"I think the personalities we have, the expectations are probably a little bit higher for them to work hard," said Ray Buchanan Sr., an NFL analyst for Comcast and NBC. "You look at Joe, Steve and myself while we were playing, that was one way to get to that level was to work hard. I don't think anyone around here thinks they just walked into it."
Ray Jr. has emerged as one of the county's top cover corners. The senior has committed to Arkansas and has two interceptions, 10 pass break ups and is fourth on the team in tackles with 36.
"Of course there's some pressure with my dad playing in the NFL," Ray Jr. said. "I think all our dads playing in the NFL, we work together and lower that pressure."
Ray Jr. works with his father during the season breaking down film, looking for tendencies in a receiver or quarterback. During the offseason they are together at Ray Sr.'s defensive back clinic at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth.
"Over here if you don't come ready to play, you're going to be on the bench," Steve Atwater said.
Joe Horn Jr. is one of the county's top receivers. The junior leads the team in catches with 41 for 677 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He's a natural, man. I don't teach him much," said Joe Horn Sr., who just released his own line of barbecue sauce.
Joe Jr. will often seek advice from his dad during halftime of games. It could be something simple as a way to adjust a route or mental focus on the game.
"People look at you more and expect you to be something," Joe Jr. said. "He tells me all the time that I'm better than he was in high school. I don't pay attention to the hype. I just do what I need to on Fridays."
Atwater, Buchanan and Horn have aspirations of following in their fathers' footsteps with a career in the NFL. Ray Sr., who is still involved with the NFL as an analyst thinks they are on the right track.
"Being around professionals and knowing what it takes to get there, they do all the right things," Ray Sr. said.
Added Fleetwood: "I think each one wants their son to be best player they can be. Each one of them has a bright future in front of them."
For more stories on Peachtree Ridge, go to www.gwinnettprepsports.com/peachtreeridge.