The first time Ralph Potter laid eyes on defensive lineman Jay Hardy, the McCallie coach said to himself, "Now that's a major college prospect."
The first time Potter saw quarterback DeAngelo Hardy play for the Blue Tornado, he thought, "He has competitive greatness. He's always better with the game on the line."
Both senior Hardys will suit up for what could be their final high school football game when McCallie (8-2) hosts Memphis program Christian Brothers (6-4) in a TSSAA Division II-AAA quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Spears Stadium.
Yet unlike the fictional Hardy Boys, Jay and DeAngelo are cousins, not brothers.
"Jay's father is my father's uncle," said DeAngelo, often referred to as D-Lo. "I guess I've known him since I was 4 or 5. The first time I saw him, I thought he was the biggest kid I'd ever seen at that age. He was huge. He's always been bigger than everyone."
A lot has changed since those early years. Jay having a size advantage hasn't.
"When he realizes how good he is, he'll be playing on Sundays (in the NFL)," Potter said.
As for D-Lo, he may be listed at 5-11, 182, but he has reopened his recruitment after originally committing to Football Championship Subdivision program Kennesaw State. He could easily wind up in a major college program as a defensive back or wide receiver, but his stats this season — 1,318 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, plus 764 rushing yards (6 yards per carry) and four touchdown runs — suggest he might still find quarterback work for an FCS team.
"From a football standpoint, (D-Lo) could easily be our best running back, wide receiver, safety or defensive back," said Potter, whose team enters the playoffs as a No. 1 seed after winning the East Region. "He's a tremendous athlete with great competitive spirit. He defines your culture."
Jay remembers first witnessing that competitive spirit when the two were 5 or 6 and playing for opposing youth league teams, with Jay's Brainerd Bills facing the Dalewood 49ers.
"They beat us by 40 points," Jay recalled. "But when we were 10, we beat Dalewood by 40."
That's not all that has changed over the years. D-Lo started at McCallie in the eighth grade. Jay actually went to McCallie rival Baylor in middle school before transferring in ninth grade.
Beyond that, Jay asked to quit being called John prior to this season.
"I've always been known as J.J. around my family because I'm John Jr.," he explained this week. "So I just decided to shorten it to Jay."
With no more than three games remaining for the Blue Tornado this season, Potter is already thinking of what it will be like at McCallie without the Hardy cousins.
"I've always said that D-Lo's a walking, talking miracle of God," he said. "To be the quality human being he is is astounding. His teachers love him. His classmates love him. He's made a huge impact around here."
Regarding Jay, Potter is no less effusive: "His heart's always in the right place. He loves his coaches, his teammates, this school. There were times as a sophomore that we fired him. But he worked his way back. Now look at him. This year he's really played hard, really stayed focused, and this recruiting thing at the level he's being recruited can be a tough thing for kids."
With a victory against Christian Brothers, McCallie would host a semifinal next week against the winner of Briarcrest (9-1) and Ensworth (7-3), which joined Florida's Clearwater Academy International in handing the Blue Tornado a loss this year. The DII-AAA title game is Dec. 5 at Tennessee Tech.
Both D-Lo and Jay know playing the last time for the Blue Tornado, whenever that comes to pass, will be tough.
Jay, who lists math as his favorite subject (he intends to major in civil engineering at Auburn) and New Testament as his least favorite class, was asked about the thought of his high school football career ending.
"I'll probably cry. We've been through so much as a team," he said.
D-Lo, whose favorite subject is English and whose least favorite is world religion, also spoke of the countdown to the end of his McCallie playing days.
"This might sound corny, but the brotherhood, it's real here," he said. "I enjoy school every day — well, other than it not being coed."
Repeating a sentiment expressed by his cousin, D-Lo singled out Potter as someone he'll miss the most.
"I'd go out there and play for him every day of my life," he said. "It's different with me and him."
The McCallie football program will be vastly different without the two of them a year from now. McCallie School might be different without their leadership and friendships. But Jay believes not much will ever change between the Hardy boys themselves.
"We'll always have our relationship with each other, cracking jokes, getting on each other," he said. "Just like brothers."
Or really close cousins.