This story was updated at 9:05 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2021, to clarify that the team is going for its first region championship since 2012.
It began simple enough, just a lift to and from little league practice. But eventually those routine short rides progressed from a way to get familiar to becoming family.
Jeremy Flemmons had opened the doors of his SUV to dozens of his son Jaxon's friends and teammates, driving each muddy and sweat-soaked one of them for burgers and fries before dropping them off with their parents.
But after each Friday practice, 7-year old Jaxon would ask his dad if best buddy Jeremiah could spend the night instead of taking him home. Friday night sleepovers typically turned into hanging out all weekend as the boys became inseparable.
Jeremy soon learned that young Jeremiah had grown up moving back and forth several times from Texas to Tennessee with his mother but wanted to stay permanently in Chattanooga, where he had grown attached to a group of friends.
After several long discussions, it was Jeremiah's mother who suggested the stability the Flemmons home offered would be in his best interest — and so instead of weekend sleepovers, the kid became a part of the family.
"That was the best decision my mom has made for me, because it was really hard moving back and forth when I was little," said Jeremiah, now a senior receiver at East Hamilton. "That decision has given me this life and a family. I've always loved playing sports, especially football, but now that I'm older I look back on it and think that the game is what brought me and my brother (Jaxon) together. It's opened up a lot of opportunities for me."
A home office was converted into a bedroom for Jeremiah, and soon after moving in, he and Jaxon began making the transition from buddies to brothers. The pair pushed each other to the point that both became starters for an East Hamilton offense that has averaged close to 43 points per game this season, and the Hurricanes are just one win from clinching the program's first region championship since 2012.
The 6-foot-4, 195 pound Jeremiah, who has averaged 20 yards per catch this season, recently committed to Austin Peay. Jaxon is considering passing up other offers to walk on with the Governors so he can continue playing with his brother.
"We're very competitive," Jaxon said. "Whether it's playing video games or arguing over who has the better hands as receivers, we've always pushed each other. I think we've made each other better players just by working so hard together. That's what makes this season so great. We're both seniors and I get to line up next to my brother on the field, so we're working to help each other succeed."
Seven years after moving in, with an unbreakable bond having been built, 15-year old Jeremiah approached Jeremy just days before Christmas with a request.
"You're my dad, and I would love it if I carried your last name," Jeremiah said to the man who had become his father, later explaining that it just felt odd not to officially carry the same last name as the rest of his family.
"It was the best Christmas present I could've gotten," Jeremy said. "We hugged for a long time, and after I grabbed a box of tissues to wipe my face, I told him I would be proud to officially adopt him. In my eyes and his, Jeremiah was already my son. From the time he moved in, I had said I would raise him as my own and try to teach him the same values and treat him just like I did Jaxon.
"Jeremiah has done more for me, changing my perspective on life, than he probably knows. Regardless of blood or anything else, he's my son. I know I'm biased, but I believe I have two of the best young men around as my sons, and I couldn't be prouder."
Known throughout his 26-year career as someone who carries great influence with his players by teaching them as much about life as he does about football, Hurricanes coach Grant Reynolds was particularly impressed when he took over the program three years ago and learned of the Flemmons family dynamic.
"It hits home with me because I'm adopted," Reynolds said. "I was adopted when I was 6 months old, so I know what it means to grow up knowing your family chose you. That was a decision that my birth mom made that gave me a chance at a better life, so I'm always touched when I hear about another kid who is given that opportunity.
"It really hits your heart when you see how well Jeremiah is doing and the relationship he has with Jaxon and his family. It's just a really special bond they have together as a family."