It's not a topic of conversation that comes easily to Brandon and Brae'ton Vann.

Few friends know the Boone Grove brothers are products of a broken home in Gary with no father and a drug-addicted mother.

Rescued from a bleak life at a young age by foster parents Vernon and Linda Black, the boys prefer, understandably so, to leave those chapters in the past, looking forward, not back.

"I can't explain it," Brandon, a senior, said. "It means a lot. We're at a level where we can try to be something. We didn't grow up like that."

Both boys talk about going to college, possibly even on an athletic scholarship. It was once a pipe dream, but their new lives offer a different reality, a stable home life, a mom and dad cheering for them in the stands and a future with hope.

"We're thankful to have them here," Boone Grove coach Dan Kukulski said. "Being an EMT, a firefighter/paramedic for 30 years, you see the bad, you see the good. (The Blacks) definitely keep them focused. They're very humble, quiet kids.

"I've coached Brandon since he's been here. I see the maturity level. He's really grown up into a nice young man. Brae'ton's younger. He doesn't really get it yet. I tell them, they're family. I treat them like they're my sons."

Sports is a bond the brothers have shared since they began playing youth football, just a few years after the Blacks brought them into their home. Brandon was 10, Brae'ton 8.

"I was fast, so I figured I'd be good at football," Brae'ton said.

With the two-year age difference, it wasn't until last football season that they were teammates. They also spend time together on the basketball court and the track, where they helped the Wolves to a Porter County Conference championship.

"It makes it a lot funner," Brae'ton said.

Competition between the two has always been strong but never over the top, usually limited to a little trash talking. Well, except for that one time.

"We got banned from playing video games for a while," Brae'ton said.

More often than not, their athletic relationship is a positive one.

"I try to set a good example, work my hardest," Brandon said. "Sometimes, we mess around. We're usually good about being there for each other."

Brae'ton, they agree, is faster, and Brandon stronger, though there's some disagreement on who's more athletic. The more outgoing Brae'ton wishes he was taller, the quieter Brandon wishes he was more aggressive.

"They push each other," Kukulski said. "If Brae'ton gets a pick or scores, the first one he goes to is this one (Brandon)."

Both Vanns became varsity players last year, when Brandon was second on the team in rushing. Brae'ton, a few inches shorter and about 15 pounds lighter as a freshman than he is now (5-10, 153), was pressed into extensive action for the first against powerful Whiting, rushing for 40 yards.

"I like the competition," he said. "I just run, try to get as many yards as I can and get out of bounds."

Now the Wolves lead tailback and a cornerback , the younger Vann starred in an upset of those same Oilers last week, racking up 151 yards on the ground and returning a clinching interception for a touchdown as time expired.

Pretty impressive, Brandon admits.

"We usually don't compliment each other to their face," Brae'ton said.

Brandon, a 6-foot, 165-pound slotback/free safety, caught two touchdown passes in the win. He also picked off a pass, his second of the season.

"We communicate a lot, try to figure out what's best," Brandon said. "We got off to a bad start, but we're getting better. We're all expecting big things this season."

Brae'ton tops the Wolves in rushing and is second in receiving, just ahead of Brandon. Each has scored twice.

Not that either is counting anything other than wins.

"We expect a lot of them," Kukulski said. "Sometimes, it's burdensome for them. They have to have big shoulders. They're special. The team rolls the way they roll."


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.