WALTHAM — The new defensive backs coach at Bentley University, Alvin Reynolds, has been around the block a few times.
Since 1982, his resume includes 19 years as an assistant coach in the NFL, plus stops in the college ranks and the Canadian Football League.
Reynolds knows that it's all well and good to have leadership qualities, but if the player can't hold up his end when the whistle blows, those personality traits don't really matter that much.
However, in just his first week of training camp, Reynolds noticed something special in Nick Athy.
"He's the ringleader (of the secondary)," Reynolds said. "He sets the tone."
Athy, a senior and Holliston native, has always been that way. Even when he was with the Panthers under coach Todd Kiley and his father, Paul, who worked as a strength and conditioning coach/defensive coordinator, Nick just always knew what to do.
As Athy enters the season as a captain out of his strong safety position, Reynolds sees not a leader in name only.
"He's a productive player," Reynolds said. "That's what brings leadership."
When Athy met with a reporter earlier this past week, the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder radiated a quiet intensity during a conversation just after practice. A major in finance with a minor in computer information systems, Athy sees the cerebral side of the game in a way that is already apparent to Reynolds.
"He's around the ball quite a bit," Reynolds said. "He has great attention to detail."
Although Paul does not want to brag about his son, he couldn't help but beam in a phone interview later that week that Nick is "the smartest player I've ever been around."
Then, with a laugh, Paul added, "If Nick wasn't my son, I would be giving him a ton more accolades."
The Northeast-10 Conference has already begun to do that. After a junior season that saw Athy pile up a team-high 76 tackles, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions, he earned all-conference honors.
Athy relishes the physical aspect that comes with the strong safety position, going down into the box and making big hits.
"I love it," he said. "It's the best position on the field. You have to be so balanced in so many areas."
Part of the reason Athy has such great football IQ is his versatility runs deep going back to his days at Holliston.
"He was moving guys around as a sophomore (in the Panthers' secondary)," his father said.
His junior season, Nick played wide receiver, quarterback, running back, safety and outside linebacker.
"You definitely become more well-rounded," Athy said of his added responsibilities in high school.
In addition to his father, Athy credits Kiley for his development.
"He's great," Athy said. "He's built such a winning culture where you don't expect anything less than being great."
Talk long enough with Athy, and that is something he thirsts for in the sport.
"My dad, (he instilled) the attitude to be the best in everything I do," Nick said.
But it's not just Paul. His mother, Cynthia, acts as a bit of a den mother to every football player that the family is associated with, and there are a lot of them.
The oldest, Max, played running back at Tufts. Sam is a sophomore defensive back at Stonehill. The youngest, Zack, is a sophomore at Holliston and will play offensive line this season for the Panthers.
Paul and Cynthia do, as Nick said, "a juggling act" from Friday night games with the Panthers to whichever college game they can make on Saturdays.
"My wife is a rock star," Paul said, noting that she we will feed all the Bentley players after games.
Kiley, too, attends as many Bentley games as possible, and Paul refers to the Holliston head coach as Nick's "surrogate parent."
With such a strong foundational support system, maybe it's no wonder that Nick is so successful, but he has always been a man of his own doing.
During his senior year, the Panthers won the Div. 4 Super Bowl as Nick played "on one foot," according to Paul, fighting through a high ankle sprain that, in retrospect, he probably should not have tested. Still, Athy's toughness would not allow him to miss the chance to lead his team at Gillette Stadium.
As the Falcons prep for the 2018 season, Athy keeps everything in short-term focus.
"We're just taking it day by day in August," he said. "We just want to get better every day and continue to grind together."
Reynolds has coached and recruited players from the Commonwealth for decades, and said that players from here fly under the radar, but also don't always put in that same grind Athy gives more than lip service to.
"He's an ambassador for the kids in high school ball in Massachusetts," Reynolds said. "He lives the game. He's well-rounded. He's just a great ambassador."