As they gallop across the field like young mavericks, it is no wonder that cousins Aaron Doddy and R.J. Williams are taking Hooks, Texas by storm.

“They’re two of the best I’ve seen,” says Coach Hart Jeanis, athletic director at Hooks High School, like a proud papa. He watches closely as they practice with their teammates, running back and forth across the field.

Aaron, 17, a senior this year at Hooks High School is the 6’3” quarterback for the Hornets. His easy smile and infectious laugh are his trademarks. Yet as congenial as he is off the field, he’s equally determined and focused when playing a game. “If we win, I’m happy,” he says.

With plenty of support from his family, Aaron honed his skills under the direction of his cousin, Alex Kennedy, a former Hornet who played defensive end and tight end between 1990—1992.

“As a child, I saw his talent,” Kennedy, 38, says of his protégé. “I knew he had it. He did well in soccer, then started football and became a linebacker. He was very talented at what he’s done.”

In a school that typically has between 60 and 70 athletes on the team, as opposed to larger schools that may have hundreds, Aaron received opportunities on the field beginning during his freshman year when he was put on a team with seniors.

“I had just turned 14 and was the youngest kid in the huddle,” Aaron recalls. His biggest obstacle at that point was trying to earn the respect of his teammates, but they soon took him under wing. “I was kind of shy so it took a while for them to accept me.”

Those days seem like a distant memory now since Aaron has become the team’s star quarterback. In fact, he did so well during his junior year that colleges like Texas State, Wyoming and Louisiana Tech started to take notice and offered him positions on their teams when he graduated high school.

While the early offers have come as a welcome surprise, Aaron doesn’t focus on that, but on the game itself. “I love football because it’s the one place where you can go out there and establish yourself,” he says. “If you’ve been living in the shadow of somebody, you can stand up and say this is my name, I’m not him.”

In addition to proving his individuality on the football field, Aaron also plays basketball and runs track, maintaining a very hectic schedule. “School, practice, study. That’s basically what I do,” he says.

Meanwhile, R.J., 15, is a sophomore this year and plays linebacker on the team. Unlike his cousin though, he didn’t have a natural affinity for the game.

“Alex pushes me,” he says. “Every single day when he’s off from work he picks me up and we work out. He wants me to do the best that I can do.”

“In the beginning, R.J. didn’t really want to do this,” Alex says. “I had to push him. Without that he would have given up. But he’s motivated now and a quick learner.”

R.J. admits that he was lazy in the beginning. “But as I played, I realized I was good at this and so I tried and got better,” he says.

Now, like his cousin, R.J. looks forward to going to college and hopefully playing for the NFL in the future. He’d like to play one day for Baltimore because Ray Lewis is one of his inspirations. “If you get hit by him, I don’t know how you get back up,” he says, laughing. “Those people should just stay down.”

Playing for the Carolina Panthers, on the other hand, holds appeal for Aaron because he greatly admires Cam Newton and can relate to his affable spirit and ability to get down to business at game time, regardless of the circumstances.

Still, neither of the boys seems to worry too much about their future at this point. Instead, they’re enjoying the moment, their team, their hometown and the tradition of Friday night football.

“I love Fridays,” R.J. says. “I start getting ready for the game and start focusing. If I do my work, I do well.”

Aaron loves the pep rallies and the tremendous sense of pride Hooks takes in its football team.

While Aaron and R.J. take great pride in their community, it is their family and team that keep them going. Aaron says his mother is his biggest hero, because most of his life she’s been both mother and father to him. “”She’s been loving like a mother, but hard like a father. She’s always pushed me to study and pushed me toward my dreams,” he says.

Their teammates are equally important to Aaron and R.J. “We spend more time with each other than we do with our own family sometimes,” Aaron says. “They’re who I talk to, who I lean on.”

“The team is an extension of my family,” R.J. says in agreement. “When I walk in this building, it’s like we’re a band of brothers and I can trust them.”