TAMPA — Richard Gouraige and Nicholas Petit-Frere were classmates at Stewart Middle School who shared a love of basketball. They played on the same AAU team, often battling each other in practice.
By high school, football became their main sport. They went to separate schools — Gouraige at Cambridge Christian and Petit-Frere at Berkeley Prep. Each found their niche at the same position: left tackle.
Now they have blossomed into a pair of highly coveted bookend bodyguards. Gouraige is ranked as the third-best offensive tackle in the country by ESPN. Petit-Frere is right behind at No. 4.
"We never thought we'd be at this point in football," Petit-Frere said. "It's bigger than anything we could have imagined."
Picking one as the area's top prospect in the class of 2018 is an impossible task. Both are four-star recruits who are nearly the same size. Gouraige is 6 feet 5, 270 pounds. Petit-Frere is 6-6, 260.
Size is only one of their biggest attributes. They also have quickness, agility and great footwork. That all comes from their time on the basketball court.
"Basketball has helped in so many ways," Gouraige said. "Not just with athleticism but with endurance."
Both played flag football before putting on pads. Each said they did not care what position they played. Left tackle became the spot because they were already overgrown kids.
It is not a glamorous position. Individual goals are harder to define because there are no true statistical markers other than pancakes, an endearing term in which a lineman flattens an opposing defender.
Their performance is mostly measured by the success of others. This past season, Gouraige and Petit-Frere opened holes for 1,000-yard rushers and helped their schools reach the playoffs.
Fans might not pay much attention to them. College coaches, however, do.
Gouraige became a big-time recruit three years ago after he was named one of the nation's top freshmen by MaxPreps. The offers started pouring in after that. Gouraige is now up to 25, including ones from major schools such as Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.
When forced to weigh factors such as education and preferences in deciding his future, Gouraige concluded the four-year scholarships offered by major Division I-A colleges in football were too hard to pass up. He gave up basketball for good in high school.
Petit-Frere still plays basketball. He started becoming a major prospect in football this past spring. He is up to 16 offers, the latest coming from Arkansas on Wednesday.
Their recruitment is intensifying. Both said they have visits from four to five college coaches a day.
Both handle the attention while maintaining solid grade point averages. But do not let their studious, nice-guy personas fool you.
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"On the field, we're dogs," Gouraige said.
The workload does not leave Gouraige and Petit-Frere much time to talk.
"Our lives are so busy but we try to call each other as much as possible just to catch up and see how the family is doing," Petit-Frere said.
Sometime in the next year, they will decide on college. Because they play the same position — and would be competing against each other — they likely will pick different schools.
"I'm going to let Richard go wherever he wants," Petit-Frere said. "Maybe someday we'll get to play against one another."