TUNNEL HILL -- It's not uncommon for young men to follow in the footsteps of their older brothers, especially when it comes to football.
Every once in a while, growing up playing in the backyard or on recreational football teams catches up to players. This leaves them the chance to suit up with their brothers on the high school level, which is exactly the case as Northwest Whitfield hosts Coahulla Creek at 7:30 tonight for an opening-week game.
The Bruins have three sets of brothers ready to take the field tonight, while the Colts have four. Two other pairs will also be in the presence of their brother during the game, yet they will be on opposing sidelines.
Northwest defensive backs coach Tino Hernandez will watch his brother, Austin Hernandez, start as the senior running back for the Colts, while his coworker and Northwest receivers coach Levi Sams will watch his half-brother, Cade Bates, start his senior year as Coahulla Creek's quarterback.
"It has definitely been in the family for years," Tino Hernandez said. "When I played at North Murray, he was one of the ball boys running around. We would go watch him play after our practices and he would watch us practice.
"I tried to convert him to be a receiver like me, but he was a little more gifted at running than I was."
The Hernandez brothers are separated by seven years, and they have two sisters between them. After graduating from North Murray in 2013, Tino Hernandez, who is in his second year as a coach at Northwest, played at LaGrange College for three years before becoming a student assistant for his final year.
"In high school, the coaches I had were with me since middle school," he said. "Seeing how everyone developed and matured and how they were able to shape us led into me wanting to teach. And once I knew football was something I really enjoyed, I figured why not put them together and give back like they gave back to me?"
Tonight's game is two-fold for Tino Hernandez, who is a special education job coach for both Coahulla Creek and Northwest. He splits time between both schools taking special education students to job sites to teach them life skills. He admitted to be the one most likely to look for a game tip here or there, just not this week.
"It's hard for me since when I'm at (Coahulla Creek) I'll see Austin around," he said. "And our mom works at Coahulla Creek, too. All I can do is just poke fun when I see them."
The situation is similar for Bates and Sams, separated by eight years, both playing and watching multiple sports throughout the years. Sams, who spent the last two years at Southeast as the quarterbacks coach, said the brothers would rather spend quality time together when they meet up.
"We don't talk much football when we are around just because we do it all the time," the 2012 Southeast grad and former quarterback said. "We just take a break for a while."
Bates said he got all the information from his brother he needs to know just by watching him when he was young.
"He was a great player," he said. "We spent a lot of time together and when I was little it felt like he was a lot older, so I definitely looked up to him."
When both teams take the field for tonight's matchup, Austin Hernandez said he won't be thinking about anything but the Colts.
"This is the last first week," he said. "We are ready to go. We are really just looking to put a stamp on the program and get off to a good start."
While the rivalry might be alive for tonight, next week begins a separate journey for each team as they are in different classifications. As the season progresses, the brothers said they will be happy for each other no matter what.
"I just want them to have success since they've been working for countless hours getting ready," Tino Hernandez said. "I always tell (Austin) that I wish him the best of luck."
Sams thinks the same.
"The family dynamic is definitely more important than football," he said. "We would never cheer against them under any circumstance, but at the same time we obviously want to win."
Other brother duos for tonight's game include Coahulla Creek's Ethan and Zandr' Burse, Joseph and Josh Fernandez, Hunter and Hayden Lanier and Caleb and Brody Pratt. For Northwest, Owen and Jeb Brooker, Preston and Callen Nealey and Bailey and Keaton McQuaig will all take the field for the Bruins.
Tonight's other games
Christian Heritage (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-A) at Riverside Military Academy (0-0, 0-0 in Region 8-A), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Christian Heritage won in 2018, 27-14
Dalton (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-6A) at Ringgold (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-3A), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Dalton won in 2018, 42-24
Southeast Whitfield (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-4A) at Woodland (0-0, 0-0 in Region 7-5A), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Woodland won in 2018, 31-22
Armuchee (0-0, 0-0 in Region 7-2A) at Murray County (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-3A), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Armuchee won in 2018, 28-7