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When: 5:15 p.m. Saturday

TV: CBS Radio: KICE 94.9-FM

Evan Hollister says he always knew his twin sons would make it to the NFL.

The 55-year-old Sunriver resident cannot explain why he was so certain. It was simply instinctual. Hollister is well-aware of how low the likelihood is of any young athlete becoming a professional football player and needs not be informed of the even more astronomical odds against two brothers reaching the sport’s highest level. He just knew that Jacob and Cody Hollister would become pros.

Yet as sure as Evan Hollister had always been, he cannot shake the surreal nature of reality: Jacob and Cody, both in the NFL, both with the same team — the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

“It’s sort of dreamlike,” Evan says. “You’ve got to pinch yourself. It’s not normal to have two players playing on the same team that know each other, much less twin brothers. It’s pretty remarkable. … It’s been quite a ride.”

“I try not to get into too religious speaking, but it’s all God,” says Jennifer Connolly, the twins’ mother. “My belief, the kids’ beliefs, they know where the gift came from and where the blessings came from. They worked for it, and God allowed it come to fruition.”

The brothers’ professional journeys began a week after last April’s NFL draft, when both Jacob and Cody, both standing 6 feet 4 inches, were signed by the Patriots as undrafted free agents. The Hollisters were together through training camp and the preseason, during which Jacob, a 239-pound tight end, totaled 146 yards and one touchdown on 12 receptions, and Cody, a 209-pound wide receiver, hauled in two passes for 40 yards. Jacob made New England’s 53-man regular-season roster, while Cody was one of 10 players signed to the team’s practice squad. (Cody is one of just four players who remained throughout the season with the practice squad, a largeley developmental unit whose members often play for the scout team.)

In their debut seasons, the 24-year-old Hollisters, fraternal twins born 98 minutes apart, are in the postseason, as the AFC East-champion Patriots prepare to host the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional playoffs Saturday evening. While Cody remained on the practice squad, Jacob appeared in 15 of New England’s 16 regular-season games, contributing to the Patriots’ offense as well as to their special teams.

Evan and Jennifer, divorced since 1997, both say they have watched every Pats game this season, eager to see Jacob take the field or perhaps get a chance to see Cody make the 53-man roster. While watching their sons live out their lifelong dreams, the parents frequently flash back to when Jacob and Cody were just youngsters playing football in the backyard of their Bend home, or, for Evan, to when the brothers were even younger.

“It seemed to me that the boys always wanted to play ball,” says Evan, who played football in high school and baseball at Portland State. Jennifer ran track and was a gymnast in high school, and she was a CrossFit coach in Oregon for several years. “Jacob and Cody were definitely that way. They wanted real food at 6 months. We’ve got pictures of them falling asleep in their high chair with spaghetti all over their faces, and they’re out cold. They wanted meat, they wanted food. … They wanted to play ball and they wanted the toughest challenge, always.”

The parents remember Jacob, at quarterback, and Cody, at wide receiver, playing at Bend’s Mountain View High, helping lead the Cougars to the Class 5A state championship in 2011. Evan, who coached his kids’ youth teams, likes to remember taking Jacob in the backyard, blindfolding him, and having him throw passes to Cody, who would run predetermined routes.

“From the time they were very small, it was their goal,” Evan says of Jacob and Cody reaching the NFL. “Something inside of me just knew they could achieve their goal. They had the right body types, everything fell into place, they played together, and everything they touched turned to gold.”

“They always had this light in their eyes about being successful and knowing how to do the work to get there,” says Jennifer, 50, who now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It’s been very interesting to watch them support each other and keep that faith and that trust and just know that it’s all going to be OK no matter what. And then to have it turn out just better than you would ever have planned for themselves … that was their dream since they were little boys.”

Certainly, Jennifer remembers, the twins had their sibling rivalries. “I’ll play your team,” she says, “and we’ll beat you.” There is also a running joke between Jacob and Cody that the two have been competing against each other “since the womb,” Jennifer says.

“But bottom line, when it came down to it, they wanted to be together,” she adds. “To have that opportunity is once in a lifetime. You just don’t hear of this stuff.”

Jennifer will constantly read the latest Patriots news and updates — her way of checking in on Jacob and Cody. She still exchanges frequent texts with her sons, as will Evan, who will make some coaching suggestions via messaging, although, he concedes with a laugh, “I still think I have something to offer, and I really don’t.” Phone calls, however, are rare, and the parents understand.

Playing in the NFL, Evan says, is their job. Jacob and Cody earned their college degrees (at Wyoming and Arkansas, respectively) while getting their education paid for via scholarships. They are debt-free, and they landed jobs right out of college.

“It’s every dad’s dream, I guess,” says Evan. “I would have supported them in anything they wanted to do, but (football) was my love, and they happened to migrate towards the same thing. It was really a dream come true to be able to spend that time with them.”

Jennifer and Evan — as well as the twins’ older sister and their young brother and two younger sisters — are soaking in each step Jacob and Cody make in the professional football ranks. Jennifer says she is having a custom Patriots jersey made with “Hollister” emblazoned on the back, right above “47/81,” the respective numbers for Jacob and Cody. Evan loves recalling Jacob’s first NFL reception, in a Week 2 game against New Orleans, a catch for a modest 5-yard gain that Evan saw on TV.

“I saw the look in his eyes, and they were big as saucers,” Evan says. “He had just played this incredible preseason, and then his first NFL game comes, he makes his first catch, and I could just tell it … was just overwhelmingly cool. He’s got these huge eyes. It was one of those moments that flashes you back to when he was a kid. You remember that same expression when he was a little tiny guy, and now he’s a big, big man.”

It came as no surprise to their parents that Jacob and Cody landed on an NFL roster. For the two inseparable brothers to find themselves on the same team, however, “THAT was the mind-blower,” Jennifer says. “This is a one-in-a-million thing and one incredible blessing.”

That blessing is what helps the proud mom have faith in what the future holds for her football-playing twin sons.

“It’s a blessing,” she says, “and whatever time frame it lasts and whatever happens is a blessing, and I know they’ll use it for good.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com .

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