Sweet Water has set bar high in football over last 35 years

Published 11:26 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sweet Water jumped up to 2A in 2012, but that didn’t slow them down. The Bulldogs won their region by going 7-0, and finishing the season 8-2. They made it to the semifinals once again before being knocked out by region foe Washington County.

Luker said everything he learned about coaching came from Atkins.

“So much of what I learned was from him,” he said. “We always had a good relationship. He was the first person I called when I was hired at Washington County. When I cam back, I never felt like I had to measure up to his success, but that is probably because I knew him so well. An outsider to the program may have felt that pressure.”

Luker added that Atkins is still the face of the program.

“He raised the bar so high when he was here, and I leaned on that tradition,” Luker said. “He built the program into what it is.”

Luker said that his success has more to do with the players than anything else.

“I’ve always said there are blue collar kids in this area,” he said. “Their parents work hard, and they work hard. It’s just that type of kid here. We have had a lot of good players, and have hit a run of them during my time here.”

Sweet Water’s assistant principal, Mark Davis, was a player under Atkins from 1979-1982 as a linebacker and offensive guard. He said Atkins was an old-school type of coach, which led to the success of the program.

“To describe Coach Atkins, I would say old-school, disciplined, hard-nosed, intimidating and motivating,” Davis said. “He knew how to handle kids. He was very successful at getting everything he could out of a player.”

He added that the parents were on Atkins’ side, so the players got no pity at home for being worked hard.

The expectations that Atkins had for his players and his team was a mindset that has stayed in Sweet Water ever since, according to Davis.

“He had an expectation of success that he established,” Davis said, “and he set the bar higher and higher. Going into my senior year, anything less than a state championship would have been a disappointment. I love being a part of something where the expectations are at their highest, and we got that back when Coach Luker returned.”

Davis said the most memorable game during his time playing under Atkins was the 1982 championship against Calera.

“They were probably better than us,” he said, “but it was one of those games where we were absolutely exhausted at the end. We left it all on the field. It was probably the most hard-fought, rewarding game of my career.”

Atkins said that Luker has done a great job since returning to Sweet Water.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” he said. “He took the ball and ran with it when he got here.”

This story was part of Profile 2013: Then & Now, which is unavailable in newspaper racks through Friday or at The Demopolis Times office.