Nate and Nicc Quinones

Nate and Nicc Quinones, from left to right, are brothers and defensive leaders for the Cactus football team.

You hear it from high school football teams across the state: The players from nearly every program describe their bond as a brotherhood.

For Cactus football’s defense, led by Nate and Nicc Quinones, the word carries a little extra weight. The pair of seniors’ actual brotherhood helps them succeed on the football field.

If their solid play, which terrorizes opposing offenses, does not make them stand out, Nate’s long, wavy hair sticking out of his football helmet might.

The brothers have been playing football together — Nicc at safety, Nate at linebacker — since they were little kids. Nate remembers running to the bus at about 8 years old, when a coach from a local youth football team ran after them and asked them to play on his team. After putting on pads and hitting for the first time, they were hooked.

“It was cool, and we’ve been teammates ever since,” Nate said, laughing.

Great friends as well as close on and off the field, the pair’s communication and work ethic spreads throughout the rest of the Cobras, especially on defense.

“They see how we are always talking, always trying to get better, and then they get it at it, too,” Nicc said.

On the field the pair are talented and work tremendously well in concert, in the form of 132 and 121 tackles from Nate and Nicc, respectively, in 2018. Those totals were among the state leaders in all of 4A. Nicc also tied for the team lead in interceptions (3) while Nate compiled 10 sacks.

“It’s rare you even get one kid with those kind of numbers in a season, much less two in the same year. They’re tremendous,” Cactus coach Joseph Ortiz said.

“And it’s not just stats, though. They are an engine for this team because of everything they do.”

Even in succeeding at a violent sport like football, it is rare to see the two fighting or arguing. Their love exceeds any sort of petty squabbles. But they are consistently trying to one-up the other in a friendly way at every opportunity.

Nate makes a game-changing sack on a crucial drive? He will brag about it to his brother running off the field. Nicc intercepts a pass? Nate is the first to hear about it.

That banter exists not just on the field, either. The pair often competes in Madden football, as well as comparing grades on school assignments. Life, for the Quinones’, is a constant contest that motivates them to improve on all aspects of life, especially football.

“It helps us get better. I know he’s going to work hard, and he knows I am. So it pushes us,” Nicc said.

The Quinones brothers hope to play college football together after graduation. If they keep up their production, it is hard to see it playing out any other way. But, for the rest of 2019, both Nate and Nicc are focused on their final high school football season, which opened with a 13-0 victory over Catalina Foothills on August 30. Led by the pair, the Cactus defense has high potential.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys — (we’re) even starting a freshman — but then some guys with experience like us that have been here a long time, and everyone knows what they have to do,” Nate said. “So it should be fun to see what we can do.”