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McNary legend coaching Whiteaker

Of the Keizertimes

Luke Atwood is easy to spot at Whiteaker Middle School football practices.

He’s the coach with his 4-year-old son on his shoulders.

“Coaching at Whiteaker is such a nice life balance for getting to spend time with my kids,” Atwood said. “There’s more flexibility, which really helps me at this point in my life.”

As a player, Atwood was quarterback of McNary’s 1996 football team that won a league championship and reached the semifinals of the state playoffs.

After Atwood graduated, the Celtics then won the state title in 1997.

“Those guys had so much playoff experience and our team was predominantly juniors and with the guys they were returning the next year, they were heavy favorites to win state and they went out and did it,” said Atwood, who was at McNary during the glory years.

“I had the best receiver (Shawn Kintner) to throw to the school has ever had,” Atwood said. “I had the experience of playing with the best football player (Aaron Koch) our school has ever had. I played with the best baseball player (Mark Hills) McNary has ever had. I got to play with amazing athletes in my three sports and be surrounded by the best so it was an amazing experience. The coaches were the best,  Vic Backlund and Tom Smythe. I was completely spoiled by my teammates and coaches.”

After high school, Atwood played three sports at Willamette University—football, baseball and basketball.

A couple of weeks before graduation, he received a call from Smythe, offering him a spot on the Vienna Viking Football Club in Austria, where Smythe coached in the spring.

Atwood played seven years in Austria, winning two European championships as a receiver and two at quarterback.

“I got out of football before I was 30 and that seemed like a good time,” Atwood said. “Everybody was starting to look younger and I didn’t know their names. It was a different club and I had done everything that I wanted to so why not move on to the next chapter at that point.”

While playing in Austria, Atwood coached with Smythe at McNary in the fall. He was the defensive backs coach when the Celtics won their second state title in 2001.

“In 2001 it was surprising because going into the season we had some great players but we weren’t favored to win it like we were in ‘97,” Atwood said. “Credit Tom Smythe, he told those boys right away that the plan was to win it and they believed it and went and did it.”

Atwood then followed Smythe to Lakeridge in 2009.

After one more season at McNary as the head JV coach, Atwood quit coaching not long after his daughter was born six years ago.

Hearing Whiteaker, where Atwood once played, needed an assistant, he called head coach Thomas Larimer.

Larimer had heard all about Atwood’s playing days at McNary.

“He was the kid that could play any position and be the best player on the field,” Larimer said.

Atwood, who serves as Whiteaker’s defensive coordinator, is just as good a coach.

“Every week I feel like I’m going to school,” Larimer said. “He’s so much better a coach than I am.”

Atwood enjoys being back on the field, coaching a group of players that includes his nephew.

“I didn’t realize until a little bit ago that I only see them in their pads because I don’t work at the school and I saw a kid out of his pads and it really makes you realize that they’re kids,” Atwood said. “When they’re in their pads they’re bigger than me and they hit and they run but when you see them out of their pads it gives you a bigger heart for them for sure. You realize how influential you can be for them. It’s a real positive experience witnessing how I can be positive for them and teach them, keep them safe out there with what I know.”