By Zack Huffman
Few high school football coaches have enjoyed the privilege of watching a star quarterback they coached ascend to the lofty ranks of the NFL. It is even less likely that that player is the coach's son, and yet that is the case with former North Clayton head coach Don Shockley and his son DJ Shockley of the Atlanta Falcons.
According to the elder Shockley, his son's football career began years before he was a freshman at North Clayton High School.
"DJ was on the North Clayton team even before he started playing there," said Shockley. "He was the water boy there; he learned a lot about football just being around us."
As far back as when Shockley was an assistant coach to Bill Kennedy at Riverdale High School, his son helped out on the sideline, collecting stray balls and providing water.
When Shockley gained the opportunity to assume the role of head coach at North Clayton, his son, naturally, came along for the ride.
By the time his son was old enough to play for the Eagles, Shockley knew his son was ready to play some football.
"My wife was concerned about whether we could coexist. I was tough on players," said Shockley. "He was about 150 pounds, 5-foot-11 and he ran a 5.1 40, but he had an arm. It was kind of incredible to see the velocity he put on the ball back then."
According to his father, DJ Shockley would have started his sophomore season had he not broken his foot at the beginning of the season, keeping him on the bench for the first four games.
During which, the Eagles went 1-3.
In his first game back, Shockley threw for 125 yards, including five touchdowns, while rushing for 113 yards.
Coaching his own son was going very well for Shockley.
Instead of spending time during practice working on his son's memorization of audibles, Shockley was able to bring that work home.
"It was a lot of fun," said Don Shockley. "As time went on, DJ knew the offense just as well as I did. By his junior year he was calling 60 percent of the plays from the line of scrimmage."
Shockley can still remember the last game in which he coached his son. It was the final game of the 2000 season and North Clayton was entering it's game against McIntosh with a 3-6 record.
The door may have already been shut on any post season hopes for the Eagles, but that did not stop them from defeating the Chiefs, 29-3.
It was time for his son to move onto college.
"It was just the beginning of another chapter in his life," said Shockley.
Even as the father of a college football player, Shockley hung onto his role as a coach for his son.
"His mother was his biggest fan," he said. "Everyone would tell how well he was doing, but I was always the one bringing up the things he did wrong."
Playing at Georgia was a struggle for Shockley, according to his father.
Shockley quickly went from being a star recruit to spending three years as back up to eventual NCAA career win record holder David Greene. In his final year in Athens, Shockley was able to return to the spotlight of starting quarterback.
In his senior year, Shockley threw for 2,588 yards, including 24 touchdown passes while rushing 322 yards including four rushing touchdowns.
"By God's grace he had a great senior year," said Shockley. "Now he's at the next level trying to prove himself."
When Shockley was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 he earned the shot at continuing his career at home.
"That's my son. To watch him go up that first day with a Falcon's uniform on was great," said Shockley. "The exciting part was when he was fighting for the third spot with Bryan Randall. Before the news broke, DJ got the call that the Falcons were getting ready to cut Randall, which meant they were going to keep him."
After spending his rookie year as a third-string quarterback, Shockley was getting ready to step up in 2007. Michael Vick had just been incarcerated leaving a void at starting quarterback.
"We went through a roller coaster in 2007," said Shockley. "When the season rolled around all of the expectations were there."
Bobby Petrino came on as head coach of the Falcons. He brought with him intentions to make a starter out of Chris Redman, a player he knew from his days as an offensive coordinator for the University of Louisville in the 1998 season.
"DJ felt like he was better than Redman, but he could see signs that Petrino was pushing Redman to the top," said Shockley.
According to Shockley, his son was compelled to push himself harder to gain a better position on the Falcons' depth chart.
"He was pressing a lot, throwing the ball 100 mph," he said.
Disaster struck in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
Just after a snap, Shockley took a sharp left and went down with a season-ending knee injury.
"When I saw him cut, I knew it was over," said Shockley. "We sat down and talked about it. This was another set back, but everything happened for a reason."
With the 2009 season drawing closer and four quarterbacks officially on the Falcons' roster, DJ Shockley, once again, finds himself in a position to battle for his job.
Whatever the outcome, one thing will likely stay the same. Shockley will continue to have tremendous pride in his son.
"What dad wouldn't like to see his son play at the highest level," he said. "As long as he can carry himself like a good, strong man, I'll be very proud of him."