In addition to having size and athleticism, the twins also have coachable personalities, and as it turned out, knowing nothing isn't always a bad thing. —Skyridge head football coach Jon Lehman
LEHI — Skyridge head football coach Jon Lehman doesn’t like breaking down football’s most basic components to his teenage football players.
But when Charles and Soane “Lito” Raass showed up at a practice last August, the twins from New Zealand didn’t even know how to wear the required gear.
“That first day that they showed up for practice, we were in full pads,” Lehman said. “Both of them just had gym shoes on. No cleats. We were just kind of like talking them through the basics of, ‘This is how you put your shoulder pads on. This is how you put your helmet on. These are the types of shoes you wear.’”
The description of that practice elicits laughter from the brawny brothers and their teammates. And while it’s true that the Raass twins knew nothing about American football, they had so much raw ability, Lehman said it’s no surprise they both earned starting jobs as seniors — Lito as the team’s center, while Charles plays nose tackle on the defensive line.
“These guys are both pretty naturally athletic,” Lehman said. “And so they learn really fast. It doesn’t take them a ton of time to put them in a position and tell them, ‘This is how you do something.’” In addition to having size and athleticism, the twins also have coachable personalities, and as it turned out, knowing nothing isn't always a bad thing.
“They had athleticism, but they just had a good attitude,” he said. “They were blank slates. In a lot of ways, it was nice. There weren’t a lot of bad habits, and these guys were very coachable. They just look at you with their sweet accents and say, ‘Yes, coach.’”
Lito and Charles, both 18, may not have a childhood filled with little league games, but they have a connection to football. Their father, Stan, and their uncle, John, also twins, played at Ricks and then BYU in the early '90s.
It wasn’t the idea of either teen to play high school football after they moved to Lehi with their father so he could be close to his family, especially his mother.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Lito said. “Our uncle, John Raass, he wanted us to play football.”
When asked if that was what they wanted, they laughed.
“Uncle is very scary,” Charles said, which makes his brother and several of his teammates within earshot burst into laughter.
The boys said their uncle turned a trip to a park into a conditioning session a few days before he took them to Skyridge for fall camp.
“We were just going to the park to enjoy ourselves,” he said. Charles finishes the story, “And he made us do gassers. The conditioning was very hard.”
The transfer of credits between countries kept them from being eligible in what would have been their junior season. But they lifted weights, practiced and studied the game they hope will allow them to go to college on a scholarship.
“We were, in some ways, a little bit fortunate that they were ineligible that first season,” coach Lehman said, “because there was no urgency to try and get them out on the field. In some ways, they were able to build up from the ground without the pressure of saying, ‘What if I don’t learn this? Am I going to screw something up for the team on Friday night? It was never that kind of pressure.” He said the Raass brothers have a calming effect on the Falcons, who will take on Lehi in the 5A state championship game Friday night at Rice-Eccles.
“Charles is a no-nonsense guy that you love to have at nose tackle, because no matter what situation you’re in in a game, he’s going to have the same demeanor,” Lehman said. “Which is, ‘I’m going to go out there and beat up the center.’ Lito, he keeps us cool because he jokes in the tough times. He makes us all laugh. The moment is never too stressful for him.” Their teammates said watching them develop has been impressive.
“I mean, they jumped in as juniors, and it’s like amazing to see how much they’ve grown, and that we’ve been able to witness that,” said Alex Palmer, one of the team’s senior captains and starting running back. “They’re so much fun to be around.”
The twins hope to play college football, although they aren’t sure if they’ll pursue an opportunity at a four-year school or do what their uncle and dad did and head to a junior college first.
When asked if they wanted to continue to play together, Charles says yes, but Lito says no. The room erupts in laughter, as he concedes he does want to play with his brother.
“I would like to be close to this guy,” Charles said. “I have his back; he could have my back. It would be cool to go to the same school.” Because Lito plays offensive line and Charles plays defensive line, they said they can support and critique each other.
“It’s nice just watching him do his thing,” Lito said. “We support each other. It’s all about the support. If he’s struggling, I just show him that love he needs to keep going. That’s the brotherhood.”
Both boys smile when asked if it seems surreal to be playing for a title in a game they’re just beginning to understand.
“We were pretty raw,” Charles said. “And now we’re playing in the state championship game.”