Football, like many sports, has the ability to bring families together. For a pair of Rouse High School students, this is especially true.
Nick Hallberg, an 18-year-old offensive tackle and part of the first senior class in Rouse history, has been spending the summer preparing for his second season as a varsity starter. With him the entire way has been his brother, Sean, a 16-year-old junior linebacker, also entering his second year as a varsity starter.
Nick, 6-feet-2-inches and 300 pounds, said having his brother playing on the same team means a lot to him.
"You're brothers and you've grown up together," he said. "It's nice to get to play one of the sports that you love with your brother."
Nick also has the benefit of his 5-feet-10-inches, 155-pound brother's knowledge and experience as a linebacker who routinely sees the offensive line from the other side.
"He'll always help you out," he said. "It's one of the perks of having a skill guy as your brother."
Despite a fierce competitive nature between the brothers, they remain big fans of each other on the field.
"I've seen him make some big strides. This past year, he's grown up so much," Nick said. "If you ask me, he could go do anything he wants as far as college football."
Nick said he has a definite sense of pride watching his brother make big plays.
"For me, I got to see (Sean) against teams like Cedar Park this last year, crazy, crazy good teams," he said. "I know Lake Travis, I'm simply saying, ‘These guys are a potential to play state,' and he's out hustling one of those offensive lineman that are looking to go to college and play at good schools, outstanding football schools, and to see him make a play, it was like, ‘Oh my God, can I get an autograph.' I mean that's just me."
Sean reciprocated Nick's sentiment.
"I guess, when you see that," he said, "it's kind of like you're the parent and that's your kid making the play, because you spend all your time with him. It just gives you that sense of pride, like, that's my brother."
During drills and practices, the two meet infrequently, but have moments of interaction.
"If I pull, and I have to go kick him, it's fun to get him in trouble," Nick said, sparking a small, tangential discussion as to whether or not a certain block was legal. "It's fun, it's always fun."
Sean recalled the first time he faced his brother on the field.
"The first time I had to hit him on a play," he said, "I was like, ‘Am I supposed to hit him,' because all my life my mom has told me not to hit him, and then all of a sudden, you turn that switch on. For a split second you think, ‘Oh, that's my brother,' but then it's back to another helmet and shoulder pads."
Competition between the two has been intense since their youth.
"In anything that you can measure one person against another person," Sean said, "we will be competitive."
Between the two of them, the list of sports in which they have participated is extensive and includes football, basketball, baseball, track, wrestling, soccer, golf, swimming and shooting.
Through it all, they have strived to be the best at every turn. More than once, the brothers even listed video games as a measurement of skill.
"We're competitive once we're going against each other. We're holding, we're throwing fits, we're doing anything we can, possible, to not lose to the other one, ‘cause then it's embarrassing," Nick said laughingly.
For as ready as they say they are to challenge each other, when the two come together on the same side, they can be a formidable force. Nick remembered one particular instance at a basketball camp.
"(The instructor) wouldn't pair him and I together," he said, "because I would set a pick and he would come down off of it and all I had to do was roll and the ball would either be in my hands on time or he'd be scoring. I had no problem with that. We feed naturally off each other."
Even when the pair butt heads, they find a way to improve themselves as athletes.
"(Sean) and I, growing up, you'd have a little bit of disagreements and I think that's helped him progress as far as me always being bigger than him," Nick said. "Him, just being a little turd, he doesn't care how big you are, he'll kick your butt one-on-one, because he's competitive like that. He doesn't have too many fears on the field, I'm sure."
Sean quickly validated Nick's hypothesis.
"For me, going against someone totally different from me size-wise, that's definitely helped me, knowing how to move someone," Sean said. "I'm sure it's helped him learn how to run or chase down someone."
The process worked in reverse as well.
"(Sean) has helped me be able to be, ‘Alright, this guy's going to be a little bit squirrely.'" Nick said. "He's always helped me realize that because he'd say something dumb and run off and then I'd have to go chase after him and get him back. That has definitely helped me."
As is well-advertised among student athletes, those who fail in the classroom can't play on the field. The familiar competitive drive between Nick and Sean has been known to bleed across the line between athletics and academics. Sean referred to the pair's desire to be the best in the classroom as behind the scenes competition.
"I always try to give my best in the classroom," he said. "We've never really competed like that. If he comes home with a "B" in math, I'm going to come home with an "A" in math. I don't want him to do better than me."
Nick said his brother's success in the classroom helps keep him on pace.
"I learn a little slower, but I'd always have to learn a whole heck of a lot faster if he'd do it. He'd drive me to stay more competitive."
Nick and Sean said they would like to go to college and both explicitly placed academics ahead of athletics.
"If I could, I'd look for a business school as far as academics goes," Nick said. "I want to own my own restaurant kind of thing. Then, it would be the coaching staff and how well they coach their players. If the school is right and they have a good business program where I can learn and they have a good coaching staff and they're wanting to make that whole team better, I'll definitely play for them, but if it's not right, it's not right. School comes first."
Sean followed suit.
"I'd definitely try and play in college," he said, "but academics first. I want to be a doctor when I'm older. If I could get to a better medical school, then I'd rather go and be a doctor than play football a couple years at a DII college."
Regardless of what the future holds for the brothers, they both said they're grateful for those who've given them to the opportunity to succeed in the present, extending thanks primarily to their mother, head coach Josh Mann and the rest of the coaching staff at Rouse.