These guys really relate

Published October 20, 2006

CRYSTAL RIVER - From all the blood and sweat lost to wind sprints and two-a-days, some teams bond like brothers. Crystal River does better than that.

Senior cornerback Walter Graden and junior defensive lineman Chris Graden are siblings, and also the heart the Pirates defense.

Despite a disheartening one-win season, first-year coach Anthony Paradiso praises the brothers for their impeccable work ethic. Neither missed a practice all offseason. When asked where their devotion comes from, the brothers point fingers at each other.

"We just challenge each other to do our best at every practice," Walter said.

With his 5-foot-11 296-pound frame, Chris is an inspiration to his 5-7 140-pound big brother in the weight room. Chris said when it comes time to run sprints, Walter returns the favor.

"I'm definitely not one of the fastest guys on the team but he always pushes me anyway," Chris said. Walter runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7. Not that it's important for a lineman, but Chris clocks in at six flat.

Paradiso estimated Chris has 20 tackles this season. While Walter has yet to snag his first interception, he made a crucial stop during the Pirates' 13-7 win over Hernando that was just as big. With Hernando dreaming of a comeback, Walter broke up a fourth-down pass with a blindside hit, ending the drive and sealing the win.

Every time the Pirates make a big defensive stop like Walter's, Ron Graden, has two reasons to be proud.

"I'm a lucky man. Most dads don't get to watch two sons start on varsity," he said. "I watch Chris on the line until I can't see him anymore, then I watch for Walter and hope the ball comes down his side."

Since Walter is a senior, Paradiso will need to find a new cornerback for next season, but they won't have to find a new Graden. A replacement already is lined up. David Graden, who plays offensive line for Crystal River Middle School, has been groomed by his big brothers to be the next great Graden to play as a Pirate. Paradiso can't wait to see him at tryouts.

"If they have even close to the same work ethic, I'll take however many Gradens are left," Paradiso said.

Chris said that since both he and his brother play defense, they haven't had a real chance to compete since middle school, when they matched up in one memorable tackling drill.

"We tied," Chris muttered, with Walter teasing him.

"I owned you!" Walter joked.

"No. We TIED."