http://helenair.com/sports/high-school/ ... 002e0.html
They grew up in war-torn Liberia, spending the majority of their days in hiding for fear of becoming child soldiers.
They witnessed things in childhood most Americans never see in a lifetime. Starvation and death before their eyes. Violence so gruesome it robs one's innocence and forces kids to grow up before their time.
So the fact that Jacob and Jared Grover, identical twins with such an intense past, are now in Helena is nothing short of remarkable. The fact that they're living the life of an average American teen, texting their friends after classes and prepping for Friday night football games, is difficult for Jared to even put into words.
"Even up to this day I just think everything has been like a dream for me," said the junior linebacker at Helena High. "I never thought I would be here ... the whole experience has just been unbelievable. I just don't know what to say about it. I'm just thankful every day."
On Friday, the crosstown clash between the Helena and Capital football teams will be amplified for the Grover brothers. They've been anticipating this particular game for the past two years, when they'll finally get to line up against one another in the varsity contest; Jared donning the Bengals' maroon and silver on defense; Jacob a wave of Bruin brown and gold rushing past.
But regardless of how many times Jared tackles Jacob or how many times Jacob finds the end zone, they'll still be best friends following the game.
Rivals, yes, when the whistle blows. Yet when the scoreboard buzzer sounds to signal the end of the game, win or lose, the boys will be happy for one another.
After all, each is the only blood relative the other has in this country. How they ended up at different schools, well, that's just one of the many intricacies along their storied journey.
Growing up in Liberia
"My whole life there was war," Jacob says recently from inside a Capital classroom, recalling how he spent his childhood. "The president was pretty much a dictator, so nobody had rights to anything."
The harsh atmosphere that gripped Liberia was due largely to Samuel Doe's 10-year dictatorial rule, beginning in 1980. The country on the west coast of Africa was a nation submerged in deadly civil war, and thousands of civilians were killed in the fighting. The violence and recruitment of child soldiers meant there was little opportunity for kids to get an education.
"Some days your friend would disappear and you wouldn't see them," Jacob said. "That means they go to war and die.
"We didn't have a father, he left us. He ran away because of war also."
It isn't all devastating recollections for the Grover boys. They also remember playing soccer with friends and family for hours on end during the rainy season. Soccer was the only sport they were familiar with before arriving in the United States.
Roughly five years ago, the twins were adopted through the Acres of Hope program, a faith-based humanitarian organization that helps Liberian children.
The family they came to live with in Helena preferred not to be identified or quoted for this story.
Jared and Jacob left behind relatives and the only life they had ever known for a chance at new opportunities.
As Jared recalls, Montana was even more different than he had imagined. The scenery and landscape, the weather and people were unlike that of Liberia.
"The biggest shock to me was the mountains," Jared, the Bengal, said. "Liberia was really flat so when we first came here, we were driving from the airport in Billings down to Helena and when I look around me I just saw mountains. That kind of scared me because I'm not used to big mountains."
Neither boy was used to snow, either. Just one day after they arrived in Helena, they got to see the white flakes Montanans have become so accustomed to for the first time.
"I ran out with nothing on and just grabbed the snow in my hands," Jared said. "I just had to see what it felt like."
Things people tend to take for granted were a big deal to the Grovers. But as exciting as the novel place was, the change also was scary.
"I hated it at first," Jacob, the Bruin, said of Helena. "I couldn't really speak any English. That was a huge transition. The food, I just wasn't used to it."
It was also the first time being minorities. Jared said he had never seen a white person before coming to the States. Both said they've grown accustomed to it since, although they still hear the occasional racial slur when traveling to games.
"Last year I kind of got some racial comments and stuff, but overall it's been pretty good," Jacob said. "When I look around I don't go, 'Oh, those people are white.' I've gotten used to it. My family here is white, all my friends are white, girlfriend's white, everybody I go to school with is white. I don't really notice it anymore, it just took a little bit of time."
The first time Jacob watched an American football game, he was astonished by the brutality of the sport.
"When I first saw football I was like, 'How can people do this to each other?' " the Bruin running back said. "Hurting each other and stuff. So I told my mom 'I'll never play this sport,' and then the next year I decided I'd play. I've been playing since and I love it."
Jacob convinced his brother to give football a try, and it wasn't long before both had given up their passion for the pitch for the game on the gridiron.
Their love of football is one of the few things the twins have in common, aside from looking alike. Jared is a bit heavier at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, while Jacob is 5-10, 180, and likes to joke: "I'm better looking."
As far as personalities go, the two couldn't be more different. While Jacob is an outgoing socialite who opts to be around friends every chance he gets, Jared is the shy type who doesn't mind alone time and playing video games, which Jacob dislikes. Jared's accent is slightly deeper than his brother's, and Jacob says they've grown to look at things a lot differently.
"Before we used to have the same way of doing things but when we came into high school everything kind of changed," Jacob said. "We are close, he's my best friend. But we have our times."
Perhaps the biggest difference is that they wear opposing school colors. Jared's decision to move out of his first Montana home and attend Helena High was based on a variety of factors, but both boys said it's proven to work out for the best.
"We kind of had some family problems so he ended up moving out to a different house, and he felt like he had more friends on that side of town," Jacob said.
Jared's reasons stem beyond just that. Since twins so often get grouped together their entire lives, the HHS linebacker said it became important to him that he build a separate identity from his brother.
"There was a point in our life where we needed some changes," Jared said. "I decided if we go to two different schools we can grow up to be two different people instead of just being together our whole life. There were also some family issues, but everything worked out. We're happy and things are going great."
With crosstown on the docket Friday, there has been extra trash-talking going on.
"We've been talking a lot of smack, but they have a pretty good team and we do, too, so I think it'll be a good fight," Jared said, adding that he's not going to let the fact he's facing his brother affect his play.
"All year long he told me he'll break my bones, he'll do all kinds of things to me," Jacob said, laughing. "I play running back so he has more options of hitting me than me hitting him. We're really competitive."
But when the rival schools aren't playing each other, Jacob and Jared support one another. Their schedules often prevent one from watching the other play, but when Helena High faced Missoula Hellgate two weeks ago on Thursday, Jacob wasn't merely at the game. He was cheering Jared on from the Helena High student section. Then Jared returned the favor the following day.
"He came to our game Friday, and although I wasn't playing he was still there, giving me support," said Jacob, who was sidelined with an ankle injury in the game against Butte. "When I'm down he normally helps me out and when he's down I help him out.
"We're not enemies, not because we go to separate schools. We're still brothers."
The two hang out whenever they get the opportunity, but admit it's hard to find the time with their busy schedules. Jacob said it's not always easy being apart from Jared.
"There are times it's really difficult," he said. "I mean, he's the only real family member I have here in the U.S., so not living with him makes things a lot harder. Missing my friends and my mom and other brothers and sisters back there, I mean it is hard, but most of the time I try coping with it. Just have to learn to live with it."
Without any contact with their family in Liberia, Jared and Jacob rely on each other.
The boys figure knowing one another so well can only help them on the field Friday.
"I know how strong he is. He's an ox, he's really, really strong," Jacob said. "I think he's stronger than I am, not going to deny I'm quicker. I know how to handle him, how to overcome his strength. I know his weakness because I've been with him my whole life. I wrestle around with him. He knows my weakness, too, so that might make him have an extra advantage."
Playing to win
Jacob and Jared are both pleased with the strides they've made this season for the Bruins and Bengals, respectively. But neither will be completely satisfied until he has accomplished his goals.
Jared dreams of one day going to college at the University of Montana, working hard in the hopes he can get a scholarship to play football for the Griz. Jacob would love nothing more than to help Capital capture its fourth consecutive state Class AA championship.
"I want to be first team all-state, I want us to make it to the championship and bring home another one," Jacob says while rattling off a number of his aspirations. "I just contribute as much as I can to the team."
Capital coach Pat Murphy has been impressed with how Jacob has grown since his freshman year, when he was moved up to varsity in time for the playoffs.
"He's just a good, solid player," Murphy said. "He's our fullback right now, and he's starting to see more and more reps. He's got outstanding speed."
Murphy has gotten to know Jared a little bit, too.
"They're both great athletes and great kids," he said. "They just adapted very quickly."
Jacob has carried the ball 16 times this season for 130 yards. His best game of the year was the season opener, when he broke the century mark.
Jared had arguably his best game just this past week, when the Bengals defense stood out in a win against Glacier. He had several key tackles, including a sack for a six-yard loss.
Helena head coach Tony Arntson said Jared has contributed far beyond expectations.
"He's coming in as a junior playing outside linebacker for the first time," the Bengals coach said. "He's had to learn the game and it's a progression, but he's a great kid and a hard worker. He's got great focus, loves to play football, and he keeps getting a little bit better as the weeks go on."
"I've done pretty good, but I can do better," Jared said. "Every week my confidence level builds up and I get more comfortable and try to get better to help the team out."
Murphy said the two twins facing off for the crosstown contest will be an exciting first.
"You always want to beat your brother," he added.
Win or lose, Jacob said there is no better feeling than stepping out on the field.
"I'd rather not do anything on Friday night but play football," the Bruin said. "And after we win, it's just the best feeling in the world. I can't trade it for anything. It feels so good that I just sit there and can't say anything, I'm just over excited."
Jared agrees. Football is an escape for him, a chance to let go of whatever he has going on in his life.
When the whistle blows, there is no more thought about the hardships he and Jacob had growing up, only a realization of how far they both have come.
"I have all these emotions in me right now so I just can't wait to let it out," he said