They dreamed of playing football at Oregon together.
Zack Dobson and younger brother Zaevion were 2,700 miles away from Eugene, but had a huge Ducks flag hanging in their shared bedroom in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I love their football crowd energy," 17-year-old Zack said. "Also the uniforms. Zae liked Bama too, but Oregon was the school we talked about."
That all changed on the night of Dec. 17.
You've probably heard the story by now. The one about the 15-year-old high school football player who was killed as he shielded three girls from gunfire when several men went on a shooting spree. Neither the football player nor the girls were targeted, police say. Just a horribly tragic case of wrong place, wrong time as they hung out outside an apartment in the Dobsons' North Knoxville neighborhood.
That selfless football player was mourned across the country as the story spread. It even reached the White House, where President Obama called him a "hero at 15" for the ultimate sacrifice he made in defense of others.
That football player? That hero? His name was Zaevion Dobson. And he had a family. He had a brother. A brother who -- now that the initial outpouring of support from across the world has subsided for the most part -- is having to cope without his little bro. Without his football teammate at Fulton High School. Without the person he shared a room and a dream with.
Insert Brandon Marshall.
The six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, currently of the New York Jets, was so moved by Zaevion's act of heroism that he's putting together a mini-documentary on it that will air on CBS on Super Bowl Sunday.
Marshall hasn't been shy about tackling issues that are close to his heart. Among those are his public revelation about a lifelong battle with depression and borderline personality disorder, along with a strong stance on the domestic violence issue that has reared its ugly head in the NFL in recent years and was a part of Marshall's rough upbringing in Pittsburgh and Florida.
"I grew up in a house, better yet an environment, a neighborhood where it was volatile," Marshall told the Chicago Tribune in 2014.
So Marshall knows a thing or two about overcoming tragedy. About rising above things that are out of his control.
In other words, the perfect person to talk to Zack Dobson.
And so he did.
— Zack Dobson (@stn__zack) January 28, 2016
On Thursday, Marshall came to the Dobson's neighborhood and chatted with Zae's big brother for two hours. They're both receivers -- Zack also plays defensive back and is a state-champion track athlete -- with incredible athletic ability. Zack even made SportsCenter back in the fall for this incredible backflip catch. But this wasn't really a football talk. This was a life talk.
"We talked a lot about him growing up in the same environment as I do and how he had overcome a lot of things to be successful in life," Zack said. "He also told me to play for my brother every time I'm on the field."
For someone who has had to start the second semester of his junior year at Fulton under the most trying of circumstances, it was just what he needed to hear.
Hearing it from a guy who has reached the level that Zack strives for made it extra special of course, but he said all of the letters and tweets and messages of support that have poured in from all corners of the country has also been moving.
"I'm honored to know that the world cares about what happened on 12/17/15," Zack said. "It shocked me Obama talked about Zae like that. I would love to meet him and thank him one day."
As for now, the Dobsons are "hanging in there day by day," Zack said. "We're just staying prayed up and thinking of all the good memories we did have with Zae."
Zack, who received a football scholarship offer from Austin Peay State University just the other day, is also thinking about his future. It's what 17-year-olds with big dreams do.
That big Oregon flag still hangs in the bedroom. It's on Zae's side of the room, right next to his still-made-up bed and a collection of footballs, a helmet and a poster commemorating Fulton's third straight state title in 2014.
The Ducks are still the goal. Zack is only 5-foot-8, but runs a 4.4 40. The triple-jump state champion said he "really loves the track program" at UO and, in an ideal world, would be a two-sport athlete in Eugene.
And there's no doubt where the inspiration will come from.
"All the hard work is for him," said Zack, who changed his Instagram handle to @longlivezae_ not long after his brother's death. "Hopefully I can live out all the dreams me and Zae talked about."