Editor’s note: This article appears in the special Thanksgiving football section published by the Citizen’s News the week of Nov. 29, 2013.
Tanner Kingsley dons his green No. 7 jersey, standing at the line of scrimmage on a bumpy field. It’s another day of practice at Woodland, and Kingsley is set to throw against the Hawks’ first-string defense.
Most of his top wide receivers play on the starting defense, too, so Kingsley has to make do with a pair of coaches running patterns. Woodland head coach Tim Shea stands aside from the action admires the awe-invoking sight.
It’s Tanner throwing to his older brothers, Shane and Cody.
“We always think, ‘What if?’” Shea says. “It’s just practice, but I think it solidifies their bond.”
Tanner, a senior, is the youngest of the three Kingsley brothers. Shane was an all-state wide receiver and Cody was the most accurate passer in program history before Tanner. Both have state championship rings, and both are on the current Hawks coaching staff.
But when the two are catching practice passers from their youngest brother, they can’t help but think what might have been.
“I wish I could have had one of them two at quarterback,” Shane says. “I’d like to think I would have caught a few passes from No. 7 in my day.”
On second thought, it might be a good thing that Shane snagged throws from Jared Katchmar and Alex Dorosh instead of his brothers.
“There would have been games where we couldn’t have spoken because I didn’t get the ball enough,” Shane laughs.
Shane helped mold the Woodland football program into what it is today. He arrived at Woodland in 2002, just in time for the Hawks’ first varsity season under Chris Anderson. Soon enough, he went from a kid who figured he was going to end up at Seymour High to one who helped put Woodland on the state football map.
“My dad took me and Cody to every big game in the Valley since we were old enough to go,” Shane says. “Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of playing in those big games. There’s no way to say that Woodland would ever have this much success.”
Woodland arrived just in time for the Kingsleys, who played in Seymour Pop Warner. They were friends with many future Wildcats and went to many games at DeBarber Field with their dad, Mike.
“We envisioned going to Seymour our whole lives, but then Woodland was built,” says Cody, who joined the program in 2004. “We decided we had to make our own paths here.”
The first game Tanner remembers was the Naugatuck Valley League football championship game in 2004, when Woodland earned a dramatic, 27-22 win over Seymour before an estimated 5,000 fans.
“I remember the whole game,” Tanner says. “I stood on the hill and watched the whole thing, and it was probably the best game I’ve ever watched.”
Shane added to the drama of that game with five catches for 102 yards but also a fumble late in the fourth that almost cost Woodland the championship. It’s something his brothers still haven’t let him live down.
“Fortunately Woodland won that game, or else I don’t think Shane would have played any games after that,” Cody jokes. “We joke around with him about it, but the only reason we’re able to joke about it is that they won that game.”
Of course, Shane gets to hold his two state and NVL championship rings over both his brothers’ heads when they bring up the fumble.
“It’s really the only thing they’ve got on me,” Shane says. “Nothing is safe between the three of us. If you mess up, you’re going to hear about it. If you score five touchdowns, you’re going to hear about the play when you should have broken a tackle.”
Tanner wasn’t safe from the grief or competitiveness when he was younger. The age difference meant he couldn’t always hang with the multi-sport stars at home, but that never stopped him from trying.
“I always wanted to play with my brothers — kind of like a Manning brothers type of thing,” Tanner recalls. “Growing up we’d always play some sport and it would always turn into a fight. There was a big age difference, but I’m glad I was able to watch them play when I was younger.”
Shane and Cody didn’t take it easy on Tanner, either.
“We beat up Tanner,” Cody laughs. “At the same time, when he was growing up, me and Shane really focused on being good role models for him. We wanted to bring him up the same way our father did for us, and we wanted to show him the ropes.”
“None of us will ever let the other one win in anything,” Shane adds. “Especially when Tanner was younger, we never let him win. He had to earn everything.”
Tanner also got the opportunity to hang around with his brothers’ friends, including quarterbacks Katchmar and Dorosh.
“When my brothers played, all their friends were cool with me,” Tanner says. “I always looked up to my brothers and their friends. I always wanted to have the same success that Jared and Alex had.”
He’s had all that and more. Tanner has broken all the school’s passing records and is among the top three passers in state history by any statistical measure. Combine those stats with his success in his other two sports, and the ultra-competitive Shane has to tip his hat.
“Tanner’s had the best career,” Shane says. “He’s going for 1,000 points in basketball, 100 hits in baseball and 100 touchdown passes in football. But with the game on the line I’m still taking myself.”
They all have different styles but have achieved similar outcomes during their playing days. Shea has coached all three of them for four years each.
“They have three very different personalities, but they all bring a lot of the same things to the table,” Shea says. “Tanner seems to be the most laid back because he’s not as vocal, but he’s not afraid to make his voice heard. He’s got the best of both his brothers in him.”
Mike and Lori Kingsley have seen it all. Mike usually stands on the sidelines, while Lori has accumulated more games in the Woodland bleachers than anyone else.
“She’ll probably be a little upset that she won’t have one of us out there playing (after this season), but she’ll still definitely go to all the football games,” Tanner says of his mother. “She’s such a Hawks fan.”
Cody and Shane credit their dad for fostering the competitive nature of the three brothers.
“He set the example,” Cody says. “He pushed us to be the athletes that we were, but he let us develop our own drive to do it. He guided us in the right directions. We brothers have great respect for other people, and that’s because of the way he brought us up.”
“Our family is a very competitive family,” Shane adds. “It’s how we were raised. Me, Tanner and Cody — I don’t know of many people who hate losing more than us. That drive to win brings out the leadership.”
All three were captains of their teams in multiple sports, leading Shea to believe there’s such a thing as a leadership gene — and the Kingsleys have it.
“I think they’re the perfect argument that there is one,” Shea says. “There’s something about certain families. Growing up and being involved in sports at a young age, it’s that competitive fire that only brothers can have. There have been many siblings who have come through here, but they’re always going to be the ones who are at the top.”
Shane and Cody are now members of the Woodland coaching staff, getting to watch their brother break records from just a few yards away. The three are good about keeping their coaching and family relationships separate, according to Cody.
“When we’re at the field, we’re coach and player,” Cody says. “But off the field, we’re brothers. Being able to watch him develop and help him develop into a better player than me and Shane, it’s fun to watch. Sometimes on the sidelines, it’s like I’m rooting for my brother but I’m coaching in the game.”
Tanner will play his final game in a Woodland football uniform in December’s state playoffs. It will be the first time in the school’s history that there won’t be a Kingsley coming down the pipe anytime soon.
“It’s going to be weird,” Tanner says. “All three of us did what we wanted to do at this school. We just came out here every game and gave it our all.”
“Looking back on it, it’s been so much fun,” Cody adds. “Hopefully somewhere along the line, there will be a group of brothers who will be able to do what we did.”
And, hey, maybe it will be another group of Kingsley brothers.
“Someone joked with me the other day that I have to have some kids soon,” Shane laughs. “I told them they have to slow down.”
“If they’re in the Valley,” Cody says of his future children, “they’re going to be playing for the Woodland Hawks.”