Football players and coaches often talk about family.
Usually its in the sense of the team: The team is a family, a group of brothers willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
In the case of Russell Countys defensive leaders, linebackers Chevel and Caleb Smith, however, talk of family takes a more literal tone.
When the two brothers take the field, they bring their parents with them, from their father on the sidelines to the numbers on their backs.
A family affair
Chevel and Caleb began playing football when their dad, Greg, introduced it to them when they were 5 and 4 years old, respectively.
Greg, now an assistant coach with the Warriors, retired after 20 years in the Army and started a youth league in his hometown where, to his delight, his sons happily got hooked on the sport.
They just bit onto football, Greg said. I didnt have to push them. It wasnt anything I had to beg them to do. When I retired, I turned to youth football. Thats what I do, thats my job. I just ended up having two kids who wanted to do it, and Im hooked on it, too.
Since then, football has become a family ritual, from the pee-wee days to their senior years in high school.
Chevel said football stays on his brain 24-7.
If Im not in practice, Im watching film. If Im not doing that, Im lifting weights, he said.
They take this seriously, head coach Demond McCoy said. To them, this is just as serious as in the classroom. They take this serious. Theyre two individuals who say, Hey, this is something we want to do beyond high school.
And, if possible, Greg is the most intense of the three, according McCoy.
Their father is more gung-ho than they are, he said with a laugh. Theyll finish practice here, and hell have them go home and work out.
Despite each of their enormous drives, though, Greg says its their mom who is the biggest push of all in the sport.
She died of breast cancer in Jan. 2011. Greg said that during their time in pee-wee ball, there was no bigger fan in the stands.
No matter who was out there, you could hear that squeaky voice of hers yelling, he said with a smile.
Now, the two players wear their numbers to keep her with them during every practice and game.
Caleb wears No. 26, significant for the date in January his mother was born. Chevel sports No. 48 because she was days away from her 48th birthday when she died.
They use those numbers as a representation in football, Greg said. She was real supportive, so they do it now, I guess, to prove something to her.
An intense competition
And to each other.
Asked if the two are competitive with each other, Greg said he was lucky his house was still standing.
They dont fight or nothing, but its like two bulls, he said. Theyre competing right now. Competing on whos going to get the most tackles. Chevel got him last year, but Caleb is (three) up right now.
Chevel notched 143 tackles en route to a first-team All-Bi-City selection last year. Through three games this year, Caleb has 33 to Chevels 30.
All three Caleb, Chevel and Greg are their own worst critics.
Theyre each others coach, Greg said. If one isnt doing something right, the other will let them know. And I dont help either. Its hard to get an attaboy out of me. If I hit them on the back, they got to do something. One will come to me and say, I got a tackle. I say, Yeah, but that wasnt not tackle. That was a hug.
The result is a pair of players who work harder than anyone else.
The defense feeds through those guys, McCoy said. They bring the excitement. They bring the energy. A lot of the young kids, they use them as role models. And we use them as examples as well. When its time to play ball, they play team ball. One controls one side, and one controls the other side and makes the calls that need to be made.
Ready for a battle
Thats the hope when the two lead their team against undefeated region foe Eufaula on the road Friday. Last season, the Tigers defeated Russell County 48-0 en route to a playoff berth.
The Warriors, like they have done during an impressive 2-1 start, would like to continue to prove doubters wrong.
Its another opportunity to show how far weve come, Caleb said. The most important thing is playing as a team.
If thats the case if this game comes down to which team is the tighter family then Russell County has already given itself a chance.
Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.