They grow up too fast, Britt Hager is learning. Not long ago, his four boys were brawling in the backyard and battling on Pop Warner fields. This year feels strangely like a year of lasts, not firsts.
On Saturday, he'll be back in his old house, the place where the Hager name was built. His second-oldest son, Bryce Hager, is playing his second and last at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as Baylor's senior middle linebacker.
Standing at his side in the stands will be Breckyn Hager, the baby of the family. He's in the middle of his senior season at Austin Westlake High and set to play at Texas next year.
"You know, it's a sad year for me. We're coming to some ends of things we've been doing for a long time," Britt Hager said. "This year, from my perspective, is more retrospect. Every game is one of their last as a senior."
Both could have special senior campaigns, but no way can they touch what their dad did in 1988, his final season as a Longhorns legend. He left Texas with 195 tackles as a senior and 499 in his career, both school records that stand to this day. His sons have been chasing his feats and his legacy ever since.
"My mom is always saying, 'I don't think you guys understand how good he actually was,' " Bryce Hager said.
Their father was a wild child back then, raised in the famous pressure-cooker of Odessa Permian football in West Texas. At Texas, he became the crazy hitman in the No. 60 jersey, the All-American middle linebacker with the Fu Manchu mustache and curly black mullet.
He played nine years in the NFL and brought his sons along for the ride. First came Bron, then Bryce, Brayven and Breckyn. Britt got to coach them as children once his playing days were over. They inherited their dad's mean streak, as evidenced by the time Brayven gashed his head open and needed stitches after Bron tackled him into a brick wall.
"We would get a little too rowdy," Bryce said.
They'd thrown on their father's replica NFL jerseys and go to battle in the backyard. Nobody came away unscathed. Especially not little Breckyn.
"Oh, I was always getting the crap knocked out of me," Breckyn said. "I was the youngest and smallest. They didn't show me any mercy. They taught me how to grow up real quick."
And Britt's four sons all went on to play his game. Bron, a linebacker on the Nick Foles-led 2006 Westlake team that went to the state title game, signed with North Texas. Brayven thrived at Westlake, too, and went on to play at Blinn College.
Bryce's options were limited by the end of his senior season: Offers from Colorado, Texas State and Air Force. Texas offered a walk-on spot but didn't deem him scholarship-worthy. In hindsight, he can see why.
"I wasn't very big. I think I had good tape, but people didn't want to take a risk on a 205-pound middle linebacker," he said. "I knew I was undersized and those big schools wanted the four-star, five-star athletes. I knew I wasn't what they wanted."
Though Britt had already been through this once with Bron, he wasn't pleased with his alma mater. Bryce received all-state honors in 2009 after 158 tackles, eight sacks and 13 rushing touchdowns for the state title runner-ups. What more could he have proven? Alas, Texas inked five-star Jordan Hicks and three more ESPN 150 linebackers.
"Mack [Brown] left it up to [Will] Muschamp. Muschamp has the pick back then," Britt said. "Muschamp only saw one game. Don't know how much film he saw. Yeah, I was surprised. I was upset. I thought he had the ability to play Division I and play at a high level there. But it all ended up working out."
Art Briles and his staff secured a commitment on Jan. 17, 2010, and from that day forward, his father made a necessary shift in allegiance.
"It's not as hard as you think. It's your boy," Britt said. "You get behind people who believe in your children, and Baylor believed in Bryce. It was pretty easy jumping on that ship."
They sure did pick the right ship. Bryce broke into the lineup two years ago as a redshirt sophomore and has started 23 games. He's the quarterback of the Bears' rising defense, one of the trusted leaders of a team that's 23-7 since his first start in 2012.
He figured quickly, too, that he had no shot of matching Britt's stats. Not in the Big 12. The fullback dives and triple options his father once feasted upon are long gone.
"It's a lot harder than you'd think," Bryce said. "My sophomore year, I had 124 tackles. I feel like that was pretty good. And his best was 195 in a season? That's crazy."
Dad has been there every step of the way, always offering postgame pointers and counsel. He has worn Baylor green throughout Bryce's time as a Bear, even when BU played in Austin in 2012. He's couldn't be more proud to do so.
"Being part of what Baylor's done over the last four years, I tell you what, it's been an unbelievable ride," Britt said.
While Bryce thrives in Waco, Breckyn has quietly grown into perhaps the best athlete in the Hager family -- to the amazement of the brothers who once picked on him.
The blond-haired baby of the family is now 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and wearing size-15 shoes. Like the brothers who paved his way, Breckyn calls himself a late bloomer. He knows he's as tough as them, too.
"That's one reason why I think he's such a good football player -- he has all that aggression that he takes out on other kids," Bryce joked.
Breckyn committed to Baylor after his spring game in May. But then, in September, Texas finally righted its past wrong. Charlie Strong called and, to the linebacker's surprise, extended a scholarship offer.
"He told me he likes what he's seen and he wants a Hager to be back out on his field," Breckyn said.
On the morning of Sept. 24, he ran to the top bleachers of Westlake's stadium and dialed up Strong. He wanted to look over the city and eye The Tower in the distance when he made his commitment official. Then he made a difficult call to his brother and Baylor's coaches.
"Wherever he's going to be happy is what I want him to do," Bryce said. "He's following in my dad's footsteps."
There's a giant photo from Britt's playing days hanging in Breckyn's bedroom. He can't yet grow his dad's 'stache from the '80s -- "the mullet, I could do," he says -- but Breckyn does want his Texas records. He wants 500 tackles.
"He's been saying that since he was a little boy," Britt said.
Next year will bring another big step for the Hager legacy. Britt knows he'll have to change course. He'll start going to Longhorns games again, and Bryce will give him an NFL team to pull for, too.
But this week, there's nothing complicated about his loyalty.
"There's only one game I want the Horns to lose," Britt said, "and that's Baylor."