Shannon Gerrety, a former linebacker who graduated in 1984 as Blaine’s all-time tackles leader, raised his twin sons not just to play football but to love defense.

“When they were just babies, I’d throw a football on the ground and yell, ‘Fumble!’ ” Gerrety said. “They would crawl after it and start wrestling for it.”

Seniors this fall, Sam and Shea Gerrety are playmakers for the Bengals defense. Through four games, Sam, a defensive back, has three interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. Shea, a linebacker like his father, led the team with 37 total tackles. The Bengals started 3-1 after two seasons without a winning record.

Success makes Shannon’s experience even sweeter. Coaching his sons was a dream he nearly forfeited in 2012, when he moved from head football coach at Blaine to become activities director. Administrators in School District 11 cannot hold paid coaching jobs, forcing Gerrety from the program he helped build during 17 years as an assistant and a decade as head coach.

He returned as a volunteer coach in 2014, just as his then-sophomore sons made their varsity debuts. Working with the linebackers and defense means seeing his sons each day. That fills the heart of an old linebacker, whom former coach Dave Nelson said possessed a “big heart — great desire.”

“Coaching provided an avenue to change and touch kids’ lives, and I didn’t want to miss that with my kids,” Gerrety said. “It’s been wonderful and I’m so proud of them as people, not just football players.”

Sam and Shea, who used to make dad the all-time quarterback in backyard football battles, are thrilled to again share time together on the field.

“It’s something I’ve always looked forward to,” Shea said. “It’s a unique opportunity and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“I’ve realized that he’s a real good coach and he connects with kids at the same time,” Sam said. “He knows all our friends, and I think they all love having him around.”

Sam, the oldest by 14 minutes, measures 6-1, 170 pounds, taller and thinner than Shea (5-9, 170). Sam is laid back; Shea brings an “incredible intensity” to most aspects of his life, Shannon said. Sam has played varsity basketball since his sophomore year. Shea wrestled for two seasons before suffering an injury and focusing on football.

The boys used to play football in the house, giving each other four downs to go from the fireplace to the couch. Nervous, Shannon would line the fireplace brick with pillows. These days, the twins only battle over who has to drive to school so the other can catch a nap.

Growing up as a coach’s son gave both Sam and Shea a rich football knowledge. Watching video at home led Shea to offer a suggestion in practice that altered the game plan for Champlin Park. On his second pick-six of the season, Sam used sharp instincts to diagnose a Centennial play not previously seen on film.

“He actually blocked me from making the play,” Shea said. “But that’s probably better because I wouldn’t have caught it. I would have just hit the guy.”

Shea’s right arm sports a tattoo of the numbers 11, 40 and 13 in Roman numerals, an arrow and the credo “Blood is thicker than water.”

He wears No. 11. Dad wore No. 40. Sam wears No. 13, the same number Stacy, the twins’ mother, wore in basketball.

The Gerretys, Shea said, are a microcosm of the program.

“We aren’t just a family in terms of the three of us,” Shea said. “The whole team loves each other on and off the field, and that’s been a key to our success.”