By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — When Austin Van Camp and Vitally Margitich walked into the North Port High School locker room for the first day of practice during their freshman year, the two Bobcats were strangers.
Pleasantries were exchanged the same way they were with all of their new teammates.
There wasn’t an instant connection; the two were merely members of the offensive line.
Fast forward to their senior year, Van Camp and Margitich are now inseparable, as the duo get ready to begin the 2016 football season, with today as the first day of practice for area teams.
“To start it off, freshman year we really didn’t know each other,” Margitich said. “We were both competitive to get a start.”
Margitich was the one to get to start as a freshman, so the two didn’t get a chance to bond.
It wasn’t until last year, the pair’s junior season, that they finally clicked.
Van Camp was the starting left tackle. Margitich stood to his side as the left guard. They now shared the big responsibility of protecting the quarterback’s blind side.
“It was like a friendship and a bond we started creating in the weight room and on the field,” Van Camp said. “(We started) doing more things brothers would do. Any time I’ve needed anything he’s been there. We rarely have any arguments. It’s a true friendship.”
The friendship extends off the field and away from the weight room.
You can find the two playing video games together, shooting hoops, fishing, helping each other with schoolwork, and they work together at Uncle Maddio’s Pizza in North Port.
On their off days, they find their way back to school, because they’re always pushing each other.
“On our days off we’ll say ‘let’s go flip some tires at school and run the bleachers,’” Van Camp said. “Just trying to make the team better.”
The way in which they make the team better is sort of like the chicken and the egg.
Do they work so well together because they’re such good friends? Or are they such good friends because of how well they work together?
Even they don’t really know, but either way, head coach Brian Hatler is glad they do and are.
“I think it shows the power of athletics in developing relationships,” Hatler said. “I think these kids will remember it for the rest of their lives. The offensive line is a unit that really has to be cohesive and work together.
“The more opportunity those guys have to work together, and get to know each other, the better I think they’ll be in the long run.”
When Margitich and Van Camp entered that locker room on the first day of practice freshman year, developing relationships was likely the the furthest thing from their minds.
But three years later, they’ve gone from teammates who were acquaintances, to best friends who call each other “brother.”