Fittingly, Lukes enter HOF together: Uncle Doug, nephew Zack to be inducted this weekend
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Zack Luke is his own man now, at least according to Doug Luke, his uncle and football coach at Cambridge High School. He lives in Rochester, works a corporate job and seldom finds the time to return to his home town and catch up or talk football with his family.
But for many years that was different as he grew up in the Lukes' tightly knit clan. Zack lived next door to Doug, and if it wasn't his father teaching him to shoot a basketball, hurl a curveball or -- in particular -- toss the pigskin, it was his uncle.
And when Zack is inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame on Saturday for his career at Cambridge as a player, much like his other athletic achievements, he'll once again be alongside Doug, who is being inducted himself as a coach.
"It's nice being with Zack," Doug said. "I don't think I would have liked (the induction) as much any other year as what it would be with him. My biggest fear -- and I really dislike public speaking -- is having to get up and say a speech, but we'll find a way to get through that. Other than that, it'll be a great night for me."
Doug took over the football program at Cambridge in 1998 and by his second year in 1999, the Indians went undefeated on their way to the Northern-Adirondack League Division II title.
Since then he has accumulated the highest win percentage of coaches with at least 100 wins at .845, led Cambridge to the 14th longest win streak in section II football at 21 games, the most section championships with 12 in 16 appearances and a state title.
"You look at someone like Doug's bio, it's just incredible," said Nick Fitzgerald, who's organizing the induction. "His winning percentage is in the top of section II history in terms of over 100 games and the number of sectional championship games are unparalleled."
So when Zack arrived to the program, there were expectations. Then-junior Justin Alexander was assumed to be the obvious choice for the team's quarterback as it tried for a fourth straight title.
But Doug and Zack's father had groomed the freshman to be a quarterback, and in 2001, that's what he became. At age 14, he was the field general for the Cambridge football program, unseating Alexander and taking over the reins of his uncle's team which by that time had already won three straight section titles under Doug's management.
The news of the coach's nephew beating an upperclassman for the starting job and Alexander moving to wide receiver was not originally well-received, though, as skepticism rippled throughout the community.
"In a small school, a small town like we have here, everybody knows everybody." Doug said. "Feelings are hurt, word gets around. When I took Zack as a quarterback over the person that was a junior, word got around that coach Luke is favoriting his nephew because it's his nephew. I had to get over that and just say, ‘No, that wasn't the case. Zack is the quarterback because he's the best quarterback.'"
The season would go on, however, and as Zack excelled under center and the wins accumulated, the doubters were quieted. Alexander's success as a receiver also became a key factor to the team's success through the first two years of Zack's career.
Under the leadership of Doug, Zack would go on to have a prolific passing career, including four section titles and the record for career passing yards among quarterbacks in the Capital Region with 7,290 -- 654 yards ahead of the second place passer.
Zack also set two top 25 single season passing records with 2,110 yards in 2003 and 1,820 yards the following year ranking him at No. 7 and No. 21 on the all-time list, respectively.
"Looking at Zack's record and looking at his numbers, they're just unbelievable," Fitzgerald said. "We're getting to the point now in (the Hall of Fame's) fifth year where we're really getting to the program-makers, the ones who really transcended their programs. Not to mention he's an outstanding football player, but what he did for Cambridge football was just unbelievable."
But despite his historically successful seasons that helped him to eventually place second in career passing yards in the state, Doug insists that Zack could have thrown for far more had Cambridge not consistently won by such large margins.
"Another thing about Zack, you look at the statistics and I would say half the games he never threw a ball in the second half," Doug said. "It could've been up there a lot bigger than what it ended up."
As the seasons wore on, Zack says the competitive fire he and his uncle each possessed would lead to issues between them on the field, but off the field their relationship never wavered.
"I'm sure he said that I was a pain in the butt," Zack said. "During football we're both highly competitive guys. We were down each other's throat most of the time, more so when I was getting a little bit older, doing the whole ‘my identity.' My junior and senior year I would say I was probably pretty tough to deal with, but we were always very close off the field."
After graduating in 2005, Zack quarterbacked the Brockport Golden Eagles from mid-season of his freshman year until the end of his collegiate career while Doug continued to bring championships to Cambridge.
And though his nephew's visits have become fewer and further between over the years, Doug says that the two still maintain a strong relationship.
But when Zack does return to Cambridge, he's always sure to see his old coach, and occasionally Doug will pull out the Cambridge playbook so they can each pour over the direction of the team.
In terms of football, the upcoming ceremony is just another milestone they get to be a part of together, but the honor is hardly what Zack is most anxious about.
"I'm actually looking forward to seeing what he says," Zack said. "He hates public speaking. Anybody that knows him will tell you how much he hates these kinds of things, he hates the awards. I'm more excited just to see that. But I couldn't be happier that we're going in together."
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