Adversaries once a year Football: The annual City-Forest Park game today pits twin brothers Taber and Sharif Small against each other, promising to keep their father, Clarence, on edge.

September 13, 1996|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Every year around this time, the Small household goes through a ritual.

"Monday through Wednesday, there's a lot of talk -- bragging and boasting," said Clarence Small. "Thursday, there's not much noise. But on Friday, we'll get up and say a family prayer, about five minutes' worth."

Then, after sending his twin boys off to school -- Taber to City, Sharif to Forest Park -- Clarence will spend his day at work, dreading the fact that his sons will be adversaries in an afternoon football game.

Each will be a running back, with Taber also playing outside linebacker, when City visits 2A league rival Forest Park in a game that has playoff implications for each team. Forest Park was last year's East Region champ.

"Last year's game [a come-from-behind 27-24 City victory] was harder to watch than most, because Taber got hurt and had to leave early, and Sharif didn't have that great of a game," said Clarence. "Enjoy it? You don't, because someone's got to lose."

The fraternal twins share similar running styles -- hard-charging and capable of bowling over, or juking, defenders. They're good students with similar tastes in cloths and music.

Each suffered a season-ending injury last season: Taber, a four-year starter, to his right ankle; Sharif, a three-year veteran, to his left. Taber (5 feet 11, 190 pounds) finished with 400 yards and four touchdowns in four games, Sharif (5-10, 200 pounds) with 623 and four touchdowns in six games.

"Last year was disappointing for both of us, and we've decided that this year, we really want to come back strong and make an impression," said Taber, who has rushed for more than 20 career touchdowns and 2,000 yards. Sharif's career totals are 1,041 yards, eight touchdowns.

"Both of us were kind of in the shadows of other guys in the past, but this year, we each have roles that are more critical to our teams."

There are only subtle differences between the 17-year-olds.

"Taber likes mayonnaise; I like mustard," Sharif said. "He likes light colors, and I like dark -- although I won't like black [the color of City's uniforms] on Friday."

Sharif had no qualms about placing a key block on Taber that led to a touchdown during last year's contest. And they've grown accustomed to the jokes of teammates and coaches during the days leading up to the game.

Taber might hear something like "I guess the Small household's going to be a little hectic again this week" from his coach, George Petrides.

"The jokes are more to relieve the tension, rather than belabor the point," said Forest Park coach Obie Barnes, who coached Clarence, whom he called "an excellent running back," at Edmondson in the 1970s.

"The boys know they have a game to play and that brotherhood can't get in the way come game time."

Which doesn't make it any easier for Clarence, who raised the twins as a single parent until remarrying when they were 10.

Taber and Sharif were running backs on three championship football teams in the Overlea and Middle River recreation leagues, and "their coaches were very good about giving them the ball equal amounts of time," said Clarence, who still marvels at the sibling rivalry's friendly tone.

"They've always run together, been good playmates and a real joy to be around," said Clarence, noting that Taber chose City for its advanced, college-prep courses.

"Mostly they've resolved their differences without fighting. Taber's more outspoken, but they always complimented each other well. There's a balance."

Clarence's breakfast prayer tomorrow will go something like this: "God, please allow my sons to play to their abilities. And please protect them, and allow them and their teammates to stay healthy."

"I love them, so I'm there to support them," Clarence said. "I'll just be watching and praying."

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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