Brothers Nicc and Nate Quinones compete in the same events in track — the 100 meters and 200 meters. They’re on the same sprint relay team.
They’ve competed on the same teams in football and wrestling.
They’ve always clung to each other because, growing up, they felt that’s all they had. They’ve persevered through homelessness, at times living with their mother in her car in Riverside, Calif., they said.
Now juniors at Glendale Cactus High School, they’ve found family and stability through sports, seizing each day with a confident smile.
“All they’ve ever done was be happy and go hard,” said Cactus football coach Joe Ortiz, who first heard of the brothers’ difficult upbringing during a team bonding camp last summer.
Nate, 16, and Nicc, 18, are in the same class. Nicc was held back earlier in their childhood so they would be in the same class.
Nate goes by “Doodles,” a name, he said, his mom gave him when he was little.
“She called me her little doodlebug,” Nate said.
The boys came to Arizona with their father, Nicholas, to attend their grandfather’s funeral. They ended up staying in the valley as their father struggled to stay sober, the brothers said.
“We slept at parks,” Nicc said. “It would rain and we slept in the rain.”
Through football, they met the Harrison family, who ended up opening their homes to them.
Larry Harrison was an assistant coach under Larry Fetkenhier. When Ortiz was hired as the new coach for the 2018 season, Harrison stayed remained on the staff. Harrison has since stepped away from coaching, while his son Larry Jr., a wide receiver, gets ready for his junior season.
“They were taking a bus from 35th Avenue and Van Buren for practice,” said LaShawna Harrison, Larry’s wife. “Once we found that out, we picked them up and took them home. We found out their living conditions and made sure they could shower and have dinner.”
She said the Quinones brothers were living behind an auto repair shop in a trailer that had no hot water and no kitchen.
“Their dad reached out to us,” LaShawna said. “We moved them and the dad in.”
Two years ago, the Nicholas went through a rehab program, while the Nate and Nicc stayed with the Harrisons.
“They seen me use drugs before,” Nicholas said in a direct message on social media. “We have lived in places with no hot water we had to dumpster dive. You would think that alone would put them in the wrong direction mentally and physically.
“I’ve always made sure they stuck together, even so much as holding Nicc behind a grade. Sports has always been their escape. Baseball, soccer, football, they excel in everything they do. This past year, I kept going in and out of jail, missing games and events. Jail made me think how lucky and stupid I am.
“Letting Larry and LaShawna take the boys, while I go to rehab was the hardest thing I have ever done. It also was the smartest.”
The brothers are happy to see their father back on track, sober, working, and coming out to see their track meets.
On Friday and Saturday, Nicc and Nate will be competing against each in the Division III state track and field championship at Mesa Community College. They like racing against each other.
“I get him most of the time,” the younger Nate said.
The struggle has helped the brothers realize there are “a lot of good hearts,” Nicc said.
“I’m grateful, you know,” Nicc said. “Without them we don’t know if we’d even be playing sports or be in school.”
Nate plans to pay the kindness forward.
“When I get older, I want to help as many people as I can,” Nate said.
Ortiz calls the brothers — who have juggled state track preparations with spring football this week — the heart and soul of the football team. Nicc is a 5-foot-9, 163-pound strong safety and Nate an undersized linebacker who had 132 tackles last season.
LaShawna said they’ve been good kids at home, getting good grades, and looking forward to sports.
“I asked them why they’ve been able to stay on path and stay away from drugs and drinking, and they say football is the reason they stay on course,” LaShawna said. “They do get a lot of help. With their help, they have higher expectations of others. They don’t want to let down anyone who has helped them.”