There is no shortage of siblings in the National Football League, and in rare situations, a set of twins may play for the same pro team — Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, of the Seattle Seahawks, are one example. But in the case of Mepham High School football, opposing teams might be seeing double this season, too.
On the Pirates’ roster this year are seniors Matt and Ryan Hegi and Colin and Nick Liese — two sets of fraternal twins fortifying Mepham’s offensive and defensive lines.
The Hegi brothers live in Merrick. Matt, a returning All-County player, was all over the field for Mepham last year, even filling in as quarterback after Mepham’s starting QB, Sean White, sustained a collarbone injury in the fourth game of the season. Ryan, a returning two-year starter like his brother, is agile for his size, 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds. He plays offensive guard and defensive end.
The Liese brothers, of Bellmore, also have an impressive playing résumé. On of-fense, Colin and Nick play center and guard, respectively, providing protection for White and giving Mepham a strong screen game. They work together as interior defensive linemen as well, negating the opposition’s screens. The screen pass — a short toss to a receiver who is protected by a screen of blockers — is an integral part of any high school team’s offensive playbook.
“I’ve had sets of brothers, and we’ve had one or two sets [of twins] at a time, but definitely never two sets of twin brothers at the same time,” said Anthony Cracco, Mepham’s head varsity football coach and athletic director. “We had a really veteran group last year — Ryan and Nick were the only two underclassmen that played significant time — but [now] they’re all different players across the board.”
The boys recalled their evolution on the team from freshman to senior year, each of them noting their physical growth. “When I started playing football, I was 170 pounds,” Ryan said. “I grew a lot from the weight room and the pasta dinners.”
Colin said he worked diligently to improve his game over the past four years. “As a freshman, I didn’t play that much at all, so in sophomore year I took it a little more seriously, start[ing] on defense and offense in JV,” he said. “Then varsity came around in junior year, and I didn’t play that much, so this summer I worked extremely hard to get better.”
Both pairs described the enhanced sense of trust that comes with playing ball alongside a biological brother. “If I’m blocking for Matt and he’s running the ball, I feel like he can trust me to make the block so he can run,” Ryan said. “Same thing on defense: I know that he’s got my back if I miss a tackle or something.”
“When we’re on the field together,” Nick said, “we always know what the other’s thinking.”
Football isn’t the only sport the boys play. Both Hegi brothers compete on Mepham’s wrestling team. “Matt was a county champ at 195 pounds in wrestling, and Ryan finished third last year in counties at 220 pounds,” Cracco said. In the spring, Ryan runs track and Matt plays baseball.
The Lieses participate in winter and spring track, as well. “Colin and Nick are probably top three and four in the county in shot put,” Cracco added. “To play sports at a high level and be successful outside [of sports] is a testament to how hard they all work.”
Off the field, the Lieses attend BOCES’s electrical training program. The Hegises also excel in the classroom; both are “high academic achievers,” Cracco said.
The Hegi brothers have been surrounded by football their entire lives, Ryan said. Their father, Jay Hegi, is the head football coach at Elmont Memorial High School, which results in some friendly competition whenever the Pirates play the Spartans.
“It’s fun to beat him,” Ryan joked.
As their Homecoming game against Sewanhaka High School loomed, the boys spoke highly of their opponents. “We’re expecting a good game from Sewanhaka,” Matt said. “They’re a pretty decent team, and they’ve beaten us a couple times in the past, but at Homecoming you obviously don’t want to let the crowd down.”
Last year, the team was upset in the first round of the Nassau County Section 8 playoffs, but Matt said he was confident that his team would be among the top contenders this year. And that may be due in some part to the brotherly love.
“You’re always close to your brothers, but you’re also competitive. This is a group that is a little bit different,” Cracco said. “They push each other and feed off each other, and they definitely make each other better.”
When they graduation, the Hegis said, they plan to pursue engineering degrees in college. Matt said he would continue to play sports while Ryan plans to focus on school. Colin Liese said he would enter the workforce to become an electrician, and Nick plans to attend trade school.
The Pirates will take on the Indians at Mepham’s Homecoming game this Saturday at the high school, at 2401 Camp Ave. in North Bellmore. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.
David Weingrad contributed to