Luke Maffeo is a high school quarterback who doesn’t have to look far for a receiver to help keep his arm in shape. His brother is always ready and willing.
Zach Maffeo is likewise a high school quarterback who also doesn’t have to look far for a capable throwing partner. His brother always will be there to answer the call.
The backyard at the Maffeos’ Dorchester house has played host to too many of these impromptu games of catch to count, a homemade field of dreams for twin boys with big arms and bigger dreams, a launching pad for athletic prowess that has taken the Maffeos from the hockey rink to the baseball diamond and, most recently, to the high school football field.
Together they played and together they battled, growing up side by side in matching uniforms, differentiated by little other than the three-minute birth advantage Luke held over his twin. One was always determined to top the other, yes, but one just as constantly was ready to pick the other one up when it was done. Celebration parties after victories, commiseration sessions after losses, the same crazy practice schedules, dinners on the run, homework squeezed in whenever possible — they shared it all.
Until they didn’t.
When acceptance to different exam schools forced a seventh-grade parting of the ways, a new sports landscape was drawn for the Maffeo twins. Luke was off to O’Bryant and Zach to Latin Academy, and as the boys officially added organized football to their long list of athletic interests, the stage was set for what has to be one of the most unusual Thanksgiving Day rivalry games the Boston area has ever seen. O’Bryant (4-5) versus Latin Academy (5-5). Maffeo versus Maffeo. Luke versus Zach.
“I root for whoever has the ball,” said their mother, Michelle.
The boys are sophomores now, with matching frames that are approaching 6 feet and still growing, their improving skills pushing them both to starting positions this fall. When Zach joined Luke as QB1 (Luke started for O’Bryant as a freshman), there might have been a natural inclination for some to assume a level of dread or fear at the oncoming clash.
Not a chance. Not in this family.
And why should it? This is a moment for the Maffeos to celebrate, a time to enjoy the accomplishments of both boys, to appreciate how much they love the game, how good they are at playing it, and how when it’s all said and done, they will be at the same Thanksgiving dinner table already plotting next year’s rematch. By attending different schools, they both have the opportunity to pursue their quarterback dream, the realization of which didn’t mean beating the other one out to get there.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Zach said. “We know ultimately there’s someone who’s going to win and someone who’s going to lose, but at the end we’re going to set that aside, work harder toward next year and win the next year.”
“Most of my life I’ve been on his team, and it’s kind of different facing him on a different team, but it’s going to fun,” Luke said. “And competitive.”
“They’re best friends,” Michelle said. “They support each other. They help each other. Of course they’re brothers and they go back and forth sometimes. But they’re great friends. I think when they ended up going to different schools, they came home and they had a new bond, something to talk about. They got to share each other’s day, got to meet a whole new group of kids.
“I don’t know if their plan was to be separated or not, but they are individuals as well, who tested and got what their options would be. I think they both ended up where they belong. In the beginning it was a little hard, seventh grade, I was a little nervous. They had never been separated. But they’re definitely where they’re supposed to be. Both are such great schools.”
So mom will be there Thursday to support both, in the stands at West Roxbury alongside other similarly dual-rooting family members. The boys’ father, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all of them clashing in some combination of O’Bryant’s blue and white and Latin Academy’s black and gold, a sweatshirt from one school topped off with a cap from the other, or perhaps a scarf pairing both fashioned by Michelle’s mother, Elaine.
“Last year it was funny,” Michelle said. “My mom made the scarves with both colors, and I had both on. Some of the other parents thought I was confused. So I look a little mixed up. We make it work.”
So do the boys. Not that hard really — the bond of brothers is strong enough to withstand plenty.
“It was a big change because we’d always been going to the same school with the same classes, and that first day, when he gets dropped off and I’m not going with him, it was an emotional change,” Luke said. “But I was really excited going into a new school, and we were ready for the change, even if it was kind of bittersweet.”
It’s Michelle’s father Charlie who meets them after their 5:50 a.m. wake-up calls, a 6:20 pickup enough time to get them each dropped off in time for a 7:20 start to the school day, and it’s mom who’s there by the end of the evening, ready by 7 or 8 with dinner and some rare down time. Such is the price of dedication — both boys harbor Division 1 football dreams — and Zach and Luke are willing to pay it.
When their paths first diverged and they headed toward high school, it was somewhere during freshman year that Michelle heard about the senior Thanksgiving Day tradition when players present their mothers with a rose. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, whose game do I go to?’ ”
But then the athletic director from O’Bryant told her about the revival of the longstanding rivalry game with Latin Academy, one that had returned just in time to allay her fear.
“I’m not going to miss anything,” she said.