On Friday, Jay's Head Football Coach Warren Kirk will step out onto the turf at J.B. Earp Arena, ready to lead his team of Bulldogs to a first-round playoff victory.

Kirk, who is in his second year as head coach, and fifth year as part of the Bulldog coaching staff, will not only wear the coaches title, but also that of uncle.

Three of his nephews: Gabe Simpson, 18, Daylon "Zeke" Simpson, 16, and L-Ray Kirk, 15, are part of this year's football team.

It's the first time all three boys have been coached - as a trio - by Kirk. It's also the first time all three have played together on the team.

For Kirk, the chance to coach his nephews comes not as a new thing.

"I've been really involved with a lot of the activities they've done, and just them growing up in general," Kirk said. "It feels kind of natural to be coaching them all at once."

Kirk, who was in eighth grade when Gabe was born, and in high school when Daylon and L-Ray followed, grew up knowing his nephews were watching his every move on the football field.

"It's a little bit surreal to have the roles reversed now, especially with Gunner [Kirk's son] watching them," Kirk said.

High expectations

Kirk admits, at times, the role of coach and uncle can collide.

"Other people may expect that they get a little favoritism because they're family, but in reality I am usually harder on them and expect more from them," Kirk said. "I can also get away with being a little harsher to them on the sidelines and in practice than other kids."

His nephews agree.

"He's tough," Daylon said. "He's way harder on us than everybody else. He's harder on us to prove we don't get anything handed to us."

The high expectations carry over into the brothers, as Daylon and L-Ray admit Gabe has high expectations for his younger brothers.

Daylon admits having a competitive nature helps combat the high expectations from both his brother and uncle.

"I like to prove to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to," Daylon said, with a grin.

Competitive Streak

Kirk said Daylon's competitive streak is, in reality, mirrored in both Gabe and L-Ray's actions.

"I still remember them in the back yard with all their pads on knocking each other around and playing football when they were younger," Kirk said. "Now it's fun to watch them compete in practice and make each other better.

"Having multiple brothers on the same team makes them work that much harder to not let little brother one up them.

"I also think being a part of the same team has made them grow closer this year. They were always typical brothers who fought and wrestled all the time, but this is a new piece to their relationship, being brothers and teammates."

2017 season

Kirk said this season, when all three boys found a place on the team, was something the family "kind of joked about" as the boys were growing up. But even then, Kirk anticipated being on the sidelines, as their uncle, watching them play.

"The stars just kind of aligned that I got to coach them for it," Kirk said. "Even though it's been in the back of our minds, nothing has been given to them because of who they are to me."

Kirk said he's expected his nephews to work hard, to have the opportunity to play under the Friday night lights - with Gabe earning a 100 percent rating this summer, while his younger brothers earned 90 percent-plus rankings.

"Gabe and Daylon have been on teams together and so have Daylon and L Ray, so it's really neat to combine those dynamics they've developed over the years," Kirk said. 

The boys' mother, Dalene Kirk, said it's been both neat and amazing, to watch her brother coach her sons.

"I never thought, when they were little, hanging out in the yard, that they would grow up and he would be their coach," Dalene Kirk said, adding Kirk has filled the roles of uncle, brother, father figure and mentor, with her boys at various points in their lives.

"He's part of the reason why my boys are so successful," Dalene Kirk said. "He's part of the reason why they've grown up to be good, and all smart."

Looking ahead

As Friday's game approaches, Gabe has given his younger brothers some "encouragement" to "keep his senior season going."

"Being an All-State Champion would be good," Gabe said with a grin, as L-Ray chides him not to "throw any picks." 

"He told me pretty much not to suck," Gabe said of L-Ray's advice this week. "We're just going to try to bring the gold ball home to Jay."

Both L-Ray and Daylon agreed. 

"We don't quit until this job is done," L-Ray said, while his brother, Daylon added "we won't back down from a challenge."

Ultimately, Kirk said, his nephews success will last well beyond their final games as teammates.

"As talented as they are as athletes, they're just as good or better in the classroom," Kirk said. "[They] have the same work ethic and drive for their education. They are all at or near the top of their classes when it comes to academics.

"They're all three good kids with good hearts who I'm proud of on and off the field."