DADE CITY — Little brothers in big families face two options.
Get better, or get bruised.
Trey Dudley-Giles did both.
The first one was easy.
Taking hits from a future Big Ten cornerback drives you to grow stronger. Playing catch with a minor leaguer forces you to throw harder. Shooting hoops with an all-county guard makes you want to get faster.
Is it any wonder the Pasco senior developed into a three-sport star and a three-star football prospect with a handful of major-college offers?
“He can hardly help it,” Pirates coach Tom McHugh said. “He’d have to try to avoid it.”
But Dudley-Giles couldn’t avoid the bruises all of the time, and one dark mark from eight years ago will never heal.
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Dudley-Giles has too many siblings to count. Eight, says his mother, Lillie Dudley, if you want to get technical. Sixteen or so, says his father, Ricky Giles, if you include cousins and nephews and blood relatives who might as well be brothers.
Either way, Dudley-Giles grew up as the youngest in a family where you did two things: You went to church, and you played sports.
“He was in a house where they played ball all the time,” said his father, a long-time Pasco coach.
And most of the time he played against his older family members, who became Pirates stars. Eric Southward led Pasco County with 17 points per game in 2000. Deshawn Southward spent five years as an outfielder in the Twins organization. Josh Johnson starred at quarterback before signing with Purdue as a defensive back in 2009.
Giles said his son “held his own pretty good” most of the time. Dudley-Giles didn’t back down, but he took some lumps, too.
During one football game in the courtyard of their Dade City apartment complex, Dudley-Giles ran over the middle — and Johnson popped him hard.
“Oh no, you can’t hit me like that,” Dudley-Giles said. “Next time I had to make a cut or something.”
Dudley-Giles got better.
He learned to slash back on Johnson. By the time the baby brother got to peewee football, McHugh realized Dudley-Giles was a special talent.
“You could see it when he was little, no matter what sport he plays — basketball, baseball, football,” McHugh said. “It’s just there.”
Getting better against his family helped Dudley-Giles become one of the North Suncoast’s top talents. The moves he honed in the courtyard faked out defenders for two long touchdown catches against Hernando in the preseason game.
But it’s the bruise from the brother who’s no longer around that keeps him going.
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Johnson and Dudley-Giles are close, but Dudley-Giles was as close to Deshawn Southward, even if their ages were 15 years apart.
“We just had that connection,” Dudley-Giles said.
Southward took his little brother to little league and high school games. He gave him advice about sports and life.
They threw around in the front yard. Dudley-Giles began to run effortlessly like his big brother.
“A lot of his stuff came from Shawn,” his father said.
A lot of it still does.
In November 2003, Southward, 25, was killed in a car wreck in Zephyrhills. Dudley-Giles was 10, and one of his closest friends was gone.
“He took it hard,” his mother said.
Dudley-Giles still thinks about his older brother. He posts birthday wishes to him on Facebook. His signature on some text messages tells him to rest in peace.
He hangs a picture of Southward in his locker and talks to it before every home game, dedicating each performance to him.
“I just try to play for that,” Dudley-Giles said. “Keep him with me.”
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Dudley-Giles has honored his family’s legacy with the Pirates.
He plays basketball, hit .455 last year as an all-North Suncoast outfielder and is one of the area’s most dynamic receivers and defensive backs on the gridiron.
Dudley-Giles caught nine touchdowns and averaged 23 yards per reception during his junior year. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound speedster already has offers from Rutgers, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, among others, and has three touchdowns through the first two games of his senior season.
When Pasco plays its non-district finale tonight against Wiregrass Ranch, Dudley-Giles will suit up for the Pirates like much of his family before him. He’ll look at a picture of Southward in his locker and mutter a few words.
Then one of the area’s top players will run out onto the field with the lessons and lumps from the past, playing with the skills he learned from his older brothers and in memory of the one who’s gone.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com. News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.