The Brothers face off as opponents in 2011.

Walker Brittain CFNN Football Reporter

Two brothers. Two different people. Two different paths. One destination.

On the surface, Joseph and Ryan Grates have little in common except their last name and a love for football. They are not only great brothers. They are the Grates brothers. 

“Teaching was the easiest way to get a job that I could think of,” said history teacher and offensive coordinator Ryan Grates. “My heart condition did not allow me to compete anymore and is what made me want to be a coach.” 

It was Ryan Grates’s dream to be a collegiate wrestler. He committed to Appalachian State but ended up not being able to attend school there due to a rare heart condition called Wolff Parkinson’s White Syndrome. 

Coach Ryan Grates on the field with Coach “OG” Grates, father of the Grates Brothers.

He attended East Carolina University, but ultimately left school, becoming a bouncer before going back to school at Fayetteville State University and getting his degree in History.

It was his inability to compete in college as a wrestler that made him want to be a coach. He wanted to help student athletes achieve the dream that he was unable to reach. 

Joe Grates also attended East Carolina but had a difference experience, walking onto the Pirate football team under Coach Steve Logan his freshman year. However, he quickly realized that playing college football was not for him. 

Grates started with architecture as a major, but transitioned to speech and physical therapy before ultimately landing as a communication major. After college, he moved to Philadelphia and got a job working as a headhunter, finding employees needed by corporations.

Coach Joe Grates discusses strategy in a big game.

How did he end up teaching?

“I needed a job,” said  AP English teacher and associate head coach Joe Grates. “I had another career that I was doing ok at, but I just didn’t like it. I would wake up every morning not wanting to go to work the next day. Then I got laid off in 2001 after 9/11. I came home and asked the Principal at Terry Sanford, Al Miller, for a job. He ended up hiring me as an EC teacher.”

Teachers don’t just teach history and English; they pass along valuable life lessons. It is these intangible things that both the teachers and students value more than anything. Things that can’t be learned from a textbook or a Google search. This is not any different for the Grates Brothers. 

“I hope they become better people and better young men,” said Ryan Grates, explaining his goal in educating players on the football field.

“I want to teach my students to have a more open mind and be able to look at things from other people’s viewpoints,” said Joe Grates. “I want them to be able to laugh and enjoy their lives, not just stress. I want my classroom to be a place where they can feel comfortable and cared about.”

“I’m definitely a coach first,’ added Ryan Grates. “100 percent.”

Coach Ryan Grates works with a student in history class.

Ryan Grates definitely doesn’t hide his devotion to coaching. He has dreams of being a head coach one day. 

“I’m definitely a teacher first,” said Joe Grates. “100 percent. I’m a teacher in the classroom, and I’m a teacher on the field. I enjoy being around young people. I have a passion for helping them. I push hard, and I have high expectations, but I love seeing them succeed. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me young. I absolutely love what I do.”

Coach Joe Grates works with his students in Journalism class.

To the students, Grates Brothers seem like complete opposites, but what do their fellow coaches think?

“Their work ethic. They work hard; they’re sincere about what they do, but overall they are night and day,” said Coach Deramus McLaughlin. “Joe is more ambitious. Ryan is more laid back and go with the flow. Ryan is not going to scream and shout like Joe does.”

Head Coach Jake Thomas has known the brothers since high school, so he knows them pretty well. 

There are more similarities than appear on the surface but the main difference is the way they present themselves.

“They are both smart and very knowledgeable individuals both in the classroom and on the football field, and they both have big hearts.” said Coach Thomas. “Joe is more emotional and outgoing while Ryan is more laid back and reserved. Two completely different personalities.” 

Both Grates brothers got into teaching out of necessity, but they stayed in education because they love being around and helping kids achieve their dreams.

Both are funny, with Joe being a more “in your face” comic, with Ryan’s humor being more subtle consisting of whispering one-line roasts.

Both love being at Cape Fear and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Both are very proud fathers and husbands.

Finally as Coach Thomas pointed out, showcasing his keen observational skills: “They are both bald.”