November 4, 2006
Brotherly love survives tough battle
Siblings Mike and Joe Pepple each wanted to be OHaras
quarterback, but ultimately only one got his wish.
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
Dena Pepple blends in with all the other moms at the OHara-Center
She carries a pile of blankets that could warm up the entire
OHara team, she wears her OHara green, and she
buys her youngest daughter a pack of Skittles.
But Dena Pepple (pronounced Pep-lee) is not like all the other
moms. They dont scream, Hold on to the ball! each
time the ball is carried. They dont count the number
of players on the field before a punt return to make sure an
illegal-procedure flag wont be thrown on the Celtics
for too many men on the field.
See, Dena has a lot of investment in each punt. Denas
husband, Tim Pepple, is the OHara special-teams coach.
Her youngest son, sophomore Joe Pepple, plays on the return
team. And her oldest son, senior Mike Pepple, is the starting
quarterback. A poor effort on the punt return would bring Dena
triple the frustration.
On Friday night, as she settles into her seat, Dena isnt
asking for as much as she normally would.
If Mike plays well, Dena says, Ill
The Center game is Mikes last game at OHara, probably
his last as a starting quarterback. More than that, this game
marks the end of the Great Pepple Family Adventure, a season
full of lessons for the boys and sacrifices from the parents.
Mike and Joe started the year in a heated competition for
the starting quarterback position. Mike won out eventually,
but not without some awkward moments at the dinner table along
Two years ago, Tim Pepple left behind 74 wins, four district
titles and 14 seasons as the head coach at Hickman Mills to
coach the special teams and the freshman team at OHara.
Tim also left behind a large chunk of salary, but he wanted
to be able to watch his boys play together. Little did Tim
know that theyd have to play against each other first.
Through it all, Dena has admirably played the role of Mama
Bear, making sure football didnt rule over family. She
sits near the 50-yard line on Friday night, watching the first
quarter of what would eventually be a 49-22 victory over Center.
Mike drops back to pass and zips the ball to an open Tokie
Aromona for a touchdown, OHaras second of the game.
Yes! Dena says, jumping out of her seat. That
looked good, didnt it?
Mike and Joe Pepple were born two years apart, but that wasnt
the problem. They both were born with the same leadership gene,
the one that makes boys want to be quarterbacks.
Mike started playing quarterback as a fourth-grader, and Joe
started the same year in second grade. The Pepple boys would
take snaps under center for the next seven years. Being a quarterback
became a part of their makeup.
Maybe Dena Pepple should have seen this coming all along,
but it wasnt until last November that it smacked her
in the face. The quarterback job was open, and her Mike was
going to be a senior, and her Joe would be a sophomore. They
were two of the better athletes on the team, and they both
coveted the starting job.
This could be a nightmare for her close-knit family. Dena
had Tims ear at home, but she also wanted to make sure
the other OHara coaches knew this wasnt just a
I dont care who you put where, Dena told
them, just dont mess up the Pepple family.
When camp started in August, OHara coach Jim DeMarea
was calling Mike, the senior, his starter. But Joe, who is
4 inches taller than Mike, was still taking reps in practice.
I wanted to be the starter, Joe says. It
was sophomore year, and being a starting quarterback as a sophomore
is pretty cool. At the same time, I didnt want to take
Joes competitive spirit won out over brotherly love,
of course. The Pepple boys had competed all their lives, so
Joe wasnt about to let his older brother take the job
because he had put in his time as the backup.
When Mike went down because of a hip flexor in camp, Joe worked
with the first-team offense exclusively for three or four days.
That time was crucial for the younger Joe to earn the trust
of the coaches.
The day before the first game against Platte County, DeMarea
told Mike that he and Joe were going to alternate series. Mike
I assumed I was the starter, Mike says.
The Pepple house had never been quieter than on that Thursday
Our neighbor could tell something wasnt right, Dena
says. Mike was outside sitting on the swing, thinking,
looking into space.
Mike and Joe had shared a bedroom for 16 years, and Denas
biggest fear was that this football season would draw an invisible
line in the middle of the room. That night, as the boys did
their homework and slipped into bed, not a word was said about
the next days game.
In that first game, Mike led OHara on an early touchdown
drive and recovered a fumble soon after. On the ensuing OHara
drive, Joe fumbled it back to Platte County.
This fall has been a constant tug on Dena Pepples heartstrings.
Mike and Joe continued to alternate series at quarterback
until the fourth game of the year. Mike had won the job, and
there was a need for Joe at tight end.
A week later, against California, Mike hit Joe for a 45-yard
connection, a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by Joe. This
was what the family had imagined when Tim decided to leave
It was a nice night, Dena Pepple says.
It was certainly less stressful for the whole family. Mike
and Joe were talking football again and teaming up on Dena
It was two against one again, Dena says.
OHara hasnt had its best season, finishing 4-6.
Dena thinks it could easily have been 6-4, but in the end,
she got what she wanted.
I think it brought us closer together, Joe says.
We were close to begin with, Mike says.
Dena nods approvingly. For her two gruff boys, thats
about as close to an awww moment as shell
Every week, Kansas City Star reporter J. Brady McCollough
will take a look at a unique aspect of the high school football
community. To submit a story idea, e-mail McCollough at firstname.lastname@example.org.