Stepbrothers Tyler Church, Jeff Strong lead solid Fruita defense
There was no question Tyler Church and Jeff Strong would get along.
The Fruita Monument High School seniors have been friends since they were on the same basketball team in middle school.
A couple of years later, they became stepbrothers when Tyler’s father married Jeff’s mother at the end of their freshman year.
“It worked pretty easy,” Strong said. “We were already hanging out at each other’s houses.”
“I thought it was cool,” Church said.
Their friendship continued to grow under the same roof.
“We motivate each other,” Church said. “We work better together. We can tell each other what to do.”
During their sophomore year, Strong would watch Church play football, and started thinking about playing.
“I never really thought about playing until I saw him play, then I wanted to play,” Strong said. “I was never really interested until then.”
Strong joined the football program his junior year.
Church didn’t want to pressure Strong into playing football, but told him, “You’d be a good player,” Church said. “I didn’t say he should do it and I didn’t want to choose it for him.
“It’s great (having Jeff on the team). We needed another big guy on the team.”
Church has played football since he was 8 years old.
Both of them are popular among there teammates.
“Both are likeable kids,” Fruita coach Sean Mulvey said. “They are easy to get along with and are supportive of their teammates.”
The stepbrothers were on the offensive side of the ball last season. Jeff was a wide receiver and Tyler played fullback.
Now, they start alongside each other on the defensive line.
Strong, who is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, starts on the interior. He has 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Wildcats.
Church (6-0, 190) starts at defensive end. He is second on the team with 51 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
They’ve played an integral role on the Wildcats’ defense.
“Jeff has put on a lot of weight and worked hard,” Mulvey said. “We like both of them, their speed and power. They have only gotten better.”
Fruita Monument (4-3, 2-0 Southwestern Conference) has won three consecutive games and nearly had back-to-back shutouts on defense.
The Wildcats blanked Durango two weeks ago and allowed a touchdown in the final minute of a 31-8 victory at Loveland last week.
Fruita’s defense faces possibly its toughest test yet against rival and top-ranked Grand Junction (7-0, 2-0 SWC) at 7 p.m. Friday at Stocker Stadium.
Mulvey knows it will take another great defensive effort to give the Wildcats a chance for victory.
A win would give the Wildcats a boost in the Class 5A wildcard points standings, which determine playoff seeds.
Fruita Monument is 32nd in this week’s standings. Grand Junction is No. 1.
“We’ve watched them all season,” Strong said. “We’re excited to play the best team in the state and knowing they are a rival, it’s always a big game. The fact they’re ranked so high makes it even better.”