Colleton Prep football coach Neil Minton knows the feeling. His roster isn't deep, but thanks to a set of triplets making big plays on both sides of the ball, the Warhawks are 7-2 and a solid contender for the SCISA Class A state championship.
Tanner, Scott and Cody Cope are making the most of their senior season at the Walterboro school.
"I've known them since the seventh grade," Minton said. "They're very similar, and there's definitely some sibling rivalry. They're good football players, but more importantly, they are great young men."
Scott and Cody are identical triplets, while Tanner is a fraternal triplet. When Scott and Cody were babies, their mother, Tracy, painted Scott's big toenail red so she could tell them apart. The boys' grandfather still gets them confused.
"But you know who is who as soon as they open their mouths," Mrs. Cope said.
Tanner said "most of the time" he's glad he isn't identical to his brothers. Tanner is 5-8 and weighs 200 pounds. His brothers are both 5-8, 150.
Just what do the triplets mean to the team? The brothers were dominant in last week's victory over Palmetto Christian Academy. Tanner had 194 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and recorded 19 tackles on defense. Scott carried 11 times for 144 yards and a score. Cody, hobbled by an
ankle injury, didn't carry the football but broke up two passes that seemed destined to be touchdowns.
"We'll run the wishbone, and all three will be in the backfield," Minton said. "The PA announcer will say 'Cope up the middle. Cope on the handoff. Cope around end.' But it's always a different ball carrier."
The odds of having triplets is about 1 in 8,000. The odds of having triplets who are boys is about 1 in 30,000. The odds of what happened in a recent game against Charleston Collegiate are almost infinitesimal. All three of the Copes intercepted passes and returned them for touchdowns. According to Minton, and a Google search, there is only one other set of triplets who each intercepted a pass in the same game. That happened in Tennessee in 2009. But the triplets in that game didn't score touchdowns.
The triplets are Blan and Tracy Cope's only children.
"We don't have anything to compare our situation to," Mrs. Cope said. "We don't know what it's like to have children who are different ages."
Having triplets means triple the work -- and worry.
When the brothers played on Colleton Prep's B-Team and on junior varsity, their mom spent endless hours in the laundry room. She also hasn't missed one of her sons' football or baseball games since they started playing in grade school.
"Football is nerve-racking," she said. "I love football, but it makes me worry because they play on offense and defense. I also have three of them out there to worry about."
The triplets are always together. They live on Edisto Island and leave their house at 6:30 a.m. to make the 62-mile trip to Colleton Prep. They sometimes don't get home until 10:30 p.m., which means they have to do their homework in the family truck.
"I used to have to drive them, and that meant five hours a day in a car," Mrs. Cope said. "Now, they have their driver's licenses. I don't have to drive but I still worry about them being on the road. They get home really late two nights a week. I am a waitress, and I was home before they were last night. It can be a long day for them, but they don't complain."
The brothers are inseparable now, but college will send them in different directions.
"Tanner wants to do something in physical therapy," Mrs. Cope said. "Scott is interested in engineering and Cody wants to do something in the medical field."