It's all in the family

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

If Arkee Whitlock manages to make it past the defensive line, and then if he's able to get through the linebackers, there's a chance he will come face-to-face with Jonathan Hefney.

It would be an odd moment for the CFL rookies. That's because they grew up in the same house, they are basically brothers without actually being related, and they have never played against each other on a football field.

The latter will change tomorrow night when Whitlock's Edmonton Eskimos visit Hefney's Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Canad Inns Stadium (6:30 p.m.).

Mano-a-mano

Hefney, a defensive back, knows that Whitlock, the Esks' starting running back, will try to go through him -- not around him -- should they go mano-a-mano.

"He's going to try to run me over," Hefney said with a laugh. "I already know. I'm expecting that. My cousins and all that are like, 'You know he's going to try to run you over. You already know he's going to try.'

"So I'm like 'OK, we're going to see what's going to happen.' I'm going to stay aggressive and smack him. Try to, at least. It's the first time I get to hit him, so I'm going to have some fun with it."

Whitlock, 25, and Hefney, 24, became good friends in their hometown of Rock Hill, S.C., when they were kids, and they got even tighter as teens when Whitlock's mom moved in with her brother on the other side of town. Whitlock didn't want to change high schools, and since their families were so close he simply moved into the Hefney household.

Whitlock is still close to Hefney's mom as a result. To this day he refers to her as his godmother.

"I call her Grandma," Whitlock said. "I still talk to her every day just like I talk to my mom. And him and my mom actually stayed right next to each other. It's all one big family."

Whitlock said he was more responsible and more serious than Hefney when they were growing up, but he believes they complemented each other well.

"Most times I was the smarter one," said Whitlock, who was a healthy scratch for the season-opener between the Esks and Bombers. "He would do some things that might get us in trouble, and I'm like, 'No.' All kinds of things ... we used to steal the car when we were younger. We did it all, man. We did it all together."

Their journeys to Canada were also done in unison. Whitlock, who has attended San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings training camps, took the plunge first, in April, and Hefney, after consulting with "big brother," followed suit a month later.

Whitlock, who has moved up the Eskimo depth chart because of injuries to Jesse Lumsden and Calvin McCarty, is seventh in league rushing with 670 yards and has seven touchdowns despite dealing with a bad case of the fumbles from time to time. Hefney became a starting Bomber halfback out of camp, which is no small feat, and has two interceptions and a team-leading seven pass knockdowns.

"During film I let (Ricky Ray) know how he plays," Whitlock said of Hefney. "He's sneaky, he's very athletic, and he's one of those guys that will fake the quarterback. He's one of those guys that's not afraid to gamble."

Hefney, meanwhile, admitted that he might not know all of Whitlock's moves anymore.

"He actually added some moves," he said. "Me and him used to work on our moves at the same time. He's been playing running back longer now."

The party in South Carolina tomorrow night will be at the Hefney household. They will have a fish fry first, followed by football. Hefney figures more than 50 people in Rock Hill will watch the game somewhere.

"In my household we probably got like 10 people who are going to watch," Hefney said. "Then we've got his sisters, his dad, his mom. The whole (city of) Rock Hill is probably his family, so he'll probably have a lot of people at my mom's house also."

Going head-to-head promises to be a special moment for both families, who are basically one.

"That was one of our goals coming up here," Whitlock said. "We knew when we both left our moms, we said we were going to first of all try and make this team, then hopefully be starters so one day we knew we could play against each other.

"It's worked out for the best, so here it is. This is a long, long time coming."

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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