As the youngest of the six children in the Rae family, Jason and Justin often used to work together to get back at their older brother Jordan for picking on them.
“Jordan used to like to sing a lot,’’ said Justin, a 5-11, 240-pound, 16-year-old junior, who starts at left guard on Cypress Bay’s football team — right next to his 6-foot, 295-pound brother, Jason, an 18-year-old senior and three-year starting center for the Lightning.
“So we would go spy on him, listen to him through his door. After a while, we just started recording it and then playing it for everybody while he was in school here. Jordan would get pretty mad at us.’’
Said Jason: “Then, he would laugh it off.’’
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Jordan Rae, now a fifth-year senior and one of college football’s best offensive centers at the University of Central Florida, doesn’t fight with his little brothers anymore. He brags about them — and how they’re following right in his footsteps to Orlando, site of the FHSAA State Championships.
“The Raes are a great family,’’ said Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo, who got to Cypress Bay in 2007, coached Jordan during his senior year and fought for him to get a preferred walk-on status at UCF before Jordan worked his way from the scout team into a starting job just two years later.
“What Jordan has done up at UCF is tremendous. He’s been nominated for the Rimington Award [college football’s best center], and now he’s got a chance to go to the next level. ... I asked their mom [Dayle] the other day if she could make me some more kids. She said, ‘No, coach, I’m done.’ ’’
All three Raes will be in the trenches of two big games this week. Jordan will be with UCF (9-3) in the Conference USA title game Saturday against Tulsa. Jason and Justin will lead Cypress Bay (10-2) in the Region 3-8A final at Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge (9-2) on Friday night.
Born and raised in Jamaica until Jason was about 8 years old, the last two boys in the Rae family have played an integral role for the Lightning this season.
Jason, a three-year starter, “is the anchor’’ of the offensive line, according to assistant Joe Courcelle. Justin, who moved over from defensive tackle at the start of the season, often serves as the pulling guard. Both also have started seeing significant snaps at defensive tackle, rotating in for one another since about the 10th week of the season, according to Guandolo.
“They’re nasty kids, just very athletic and tough,’’ Courcelle said. “They do a lot of combination blocks together, so the chemistry is there. The one thing they do for us in practice is they push each other. There’s that brotherly love, but they push each other and they demand from each other. The rest of the line feeds off of that. The energy those two bring to practice every day is tremendous.’’
The Lightning, one of Broward’s best rushing teams year-in and year-out under Guandolo, had just one returning starting offensive lineman at the beginning of the season and lost starting left tackle Dylan Seidle to a season-ending injury back on Sept. 7. But since his team rushed for 322 yards on 52 attempts in a 42-20 loss at Bradenton Manatee, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Courcelle said his offensive line has been playing with newfound confidence.
The stats support Courcelle’s theory. The Lightning has averaged 294 yards a game on the ground since that loss. They averaged just 221.5 yards in their first six games. Star tailback Matt Dayes, who ran for 556 yards and five TDs on 104 carries in his first six games, has exploded over his past six games, rushing for 897 yards and 15 TDs on 100 carries.
“I don’t see a better [offensive lineman] in the state than our guy,’’ Guandolo said of Jason, an FIU commitment. “Two years ago in the state semifinals, we were on the 2-yard line about to go up 10 points on Central with three minutes left when he went out with an ankle injury. He came out and we lost 4 yards on a sweep, got sacked and had to kick a field goal. We went up six and I knew six wasn’t going to do it.’’
The Lightning has been trying to get back to the state semifinals ever since. Jason Rae, who benches a team-high 375 pounds, squats over 500 pounds and power cleans 265 pounds, said being this close to reaching Orlando again is driving him hard this week.
“Knowing we were so close, I always have that moment when I got hurt in the back of my mind,’’ Jason said. “Now we have another opportunity and chance to get there. Just can’t blow it.’’