CLEARWATER —Years before they arrived at Florida International, Alex and Shane McGough played football with each other in the backyard of their Carrollwood home.
Alex was the quarterback. Shane was his center.
So it's fitting that in what will almost certainly be the brothers' final game together, that's the way it will end — with senior Alex taking snaps from his redshirt freshman Shane, 40 miles from home at Tropicana Field in Thursday's Gasparilla Bowl.
"There's nothing like it," Shane said after Tuesday's practice at Calvary Christian High. "You can't even put it into words."
Shane started as Alex's center in peewee leagues, but the two-year age gap caused things to change by the time they reached Gaither High.
When Alex was a junior in 2012, Shane was a freshman linebacker on the JV team. The next year, Shane moved up to varsity tight end. He couldn't catch well — Alex jokes that his brother has bricks for hands — but he could sweep defensive ends down the field with his blocks. He moved to left tackle in 2014 and started to dominate.
"They said he was just kicking people's butts," Alex said.
Alex was, too, in his first season at FIU. He started 11 games as a true freshman, earning all-freshman Conference USA honors and beginning his record-breaking career with the Panthers.
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Alex broke FIU's record for career touchdown passes as a junior and padded his total to 65. He holds the program record for total offense (9,602) and needs 154 passing yards against Temple to pass Josh Padrick (9,237) and reset that record, too, before earning a shot at the next level as an NFL draft prospect.
FIU coach Butch Davis, calls him "the most physically gifted, talented quarterback" he's ever had — tops among a list that includes former Miami star Ken Dorsey, the Texans' T.J. Yates and any he had as Browns' head coach from 2001-04.
"I think Alex has magic," Davis said. "When he gets in the huddle, I think the other 10 guys believe that no matter what play is called, he's going to make the play work."
Shane certainly does.
His brother's presence in Miami was an obvious reason why he wanted to play at FIU. It wasn't just the idea of reuniting with his sibling; Shane spent two years hanging around the program and felt like he belonged.
"Once I got the offer, I kind of fit right in," Shane said. "It was already like part of my family."
The 6-foot-2, 302-pound Shane redshirted last season and began contributing this fall as the Panthers won eight games for the first time since 2011. He inherited the starting job last month when Neil Mars went down with an injury.
The move has one weird side effect: Shane never wants to give up a sack, but the pressure from himself and his family is even greater when the quarterback is his brother.
"It kind of goes through my mind if I let out a sack," Shane said. "Oh, geez, I'm going to hear about this later."
But the positives far outweigh the negatives.
When Shane was adjusting to center, he relied on Alex to teach him about protections and schemes.
"Anytime you've got a question, you can always ask him," Shane said. "He never lets me get in over my head. It's good having him behind me."
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.