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Friendship sidelined when two take field

Spencer Brown and Nate Toole are bruising running backs who enjoy trying to see how many cleat marks opponents can hold. They also are defensive stalwarts who are explosive hitters.

Tonight, they get to put their ferocious skills to use.

Against each other.

Mitchell's Brown and Hudson's Toole, who are friends off the field, face off in a non-district game.

"We're going to have to put our friendship aside for this one," Brown said. "It's battle time."

The seniors got to know each other the past two years competing in the same weight class (219 pounds) in weight-lifting and attending various football camps in the summer. Usually, talk centered on one thing: football.

"We both agreed that we had talent on our teams," Brown said. "For some reason, we just have not been able to put it together. We needed to find a way to put it to use."

The Mustangs and Cobras each have atoned for last season's futility with strong starts. Mitchell is 1-1, and Hudson is off to its first 3-0 start since 1996.

It's only fitting that Brown and Toole have been key contributors to their team's success.

Brown rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening 41-13 victory over Pasco. Last week, he had a team-leading 74 yards in a loss to Clearwater Central Catholic.

At 6 foot 1, 225 pounds, Brown can move the chains with his bursts up the middle. It keeps linebackers from keying on halfback D.J. Crosby and wingback James "J.J." Campbell.

"(Brown) is a load," Hudson coach Mark Nash said."He's definitely a key to their offense. But they've got a lot of weapons in the backfield."

Nash has a weapon in Toole (6-2, 215), a churn-it-out workhorse who runs inside and is the perfect change-of-pace back for the Cobras wide-open, multiple-set offense.

Toole is the county's second-leading rusher with 278 yards, including 164 in last week's win over Pasco. He has a county-best seven touchdowns.

"I don't like to single out individuals, but he's certainly been big for our team," Nash said.

Toole will be counted on to help Hudson stay undefeated and snap a two-game losing streak to Mitchell.

"This is going to be a good test for us," Toole said of Mitchell. "We have a big district game against Wesley Chapel next week, so this will let us see where we stand. I know I'll have to do my part running the ball."

That is easy compared to stopping the two backs, something both will try to do when they line up on defense. They should be up to the task considering they are among the team leaders in tackles.

"Spencer is a big, powerful guy," Toole said. "I'll just have to wrap up and get help."

After a game bound to be filled with collisions, Brown and Toole said they'll put aside their grudge match on the field and resume their friendship.

"Win or lose, there will be no hard feelings," Brown said. "Everything is squashed. It'll be back to normal. We'll talk."