WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — There have been ups and some life-altering downs the past few years, but these are undeniably good times for the Joyer family.
“This should make for a really, really interesting experience,” said Kirsten Joyer, a big smile across her face. “You can’t plan something like this.”
Over the weekend here at their home about 30 miles from downtown Tampa, the two oldest Joyer brothers were back home and the center of attention.
A TV cameraman from Bay News 9 was in the living room taping a segment with Hunter, a sophomore fullback for the Gators, and Kamran, a redshirt junior offensive lineman for Louisville, as the brothers sat in front of the family Christmas tree.
There were a couple of writers there, too, and the Joyer brothers spoke on the phone earlier in the day with other media outlets interested in their story.
Seated in her wheelchair next to a table piled high with breakfast pastries, 80-year-old LaVona Spencer looked on as her grandsons talked about their upcoming matchup in the Sugar Bowl.
It will be the first time the Joyer brothers have played against each other in a game since Kirsten, their mother, first signed Kamran up for Police Athletic League football about 15 years ago.
“They are amazing people,” said Spencer, Kirsten’s mother and a former professor at Wichita State University. “They are tenacious. That’s the word I like to us. They go after things and get them done.”
Since the BCS bowl selections were announced earlier this month Hunter and Kamran have spoken often on the phone about their Sugar Bowl showdown.
The Gators face the Cardinals in New Orleans on Jan. 2 and since the matchup became official, Kirsten has spent many hours coordinating a trip expected to include about 20 family members.
Her two oldest sons have mostly ribbed each other the way brothers do.
“It’s real different,” Hunter said. “I don’t even really know how to take it in or feel about it. I guess we’ll just take it in naturally on Jan. 2.”
Nineteen-year-old Hunter is the more easy-going of the two and grew up in Kamran’s shadow.
Both excelled in football and track-and-field in high school. Kamran, 22, set weightlifting records and shot put records at Wesley Chapel High.
And then came along his longtime sidekick Hunter, a two-year starter for the Gators and a prototypical fullback who opens up a lot of running lanes for Florida tailback Mike Gillislee. He is also one of the team’s strongest players, able to bench press more than 400 pounds as a high school freshman.
“We were always together,” Kamran said. “I was setting records and he would break them. He broke them all.
“I was excited [when I first heard about the Sugar Bowl]. My second thought was to call him and talk some trash.”
Kamran had already left home and was a freshman at Louisville in January 2010 when the family’s life changed. A longtime educator and former assistant principal at Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel, Kirsten Joyer was working in her office after school when she heard a pop in her head.
Suddenly, her vision became blurry and she lost her balance. She was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.
Kirsten suffered cerebral aneurysm, later learning she was born with a tangled group of blood vessels in her brain known as arteriovenous malformation, the same rare condition that forced Gators linebacker Neiron Ball to miss the 2011 season.
With her husband Jack then on the road for significant stretches with his sales job, Hunter took over as his mom’s primary caregiver his final year and a half of high school.
He had just finished his junior football season at Tampa Catholic and had to return to Wesley Chapel High to be closer to home and help his mom with everyday chores.
Kirsten has since made a strong recovering but was forced to leave her career in education. Meanwhile, Kirsten’s mother suffered a stroke two years ago in Kansas and now lives with Kirsten and Jack.
The road to the 2013 Sugar Bowl hasn’t always been sweet for the Joyers, which what makes the game even more meaningful for Kirsten.
“I love the Gators and I love the Cardinals,” she said. “We’re in it to have a great time. All I know is that a Joyer is going to win.”
Before the regular season starts Jack Joyer maps out a schedule for the family. With Hunter playing home games only an hour and a half from home, watching Hunter play is only a day trip to The Swamp.
Making Kamran’s games are more difficult, but coming from a family of eight siblings, either Jack or one of his brothers and sisters attend all of Louisville’s home games.
“It’s been a great experience watching these guys grow,” Kirsten said. “They are good kids, too. They don’t give me any trouble.”
Hunter will be in the Gators’ starting lineup at the Superdome in New Orleans. While Joyer doesn’t rack up many stats, the 5-foot-10, 249-pound Joyer plays an integral role in helping the Gators execute the downhill running game that allowed Gillislee to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in eight years this season.
Joyer quickly made an impression on Gators coach Will Muschamp and has played in every game since Muschamp took over the program. He also made an impression on his teammates, including senior linebacker Jon Bostic.
“He is one of the hardest guys I’ve ever had to tackle,” Bostic said. “When you hit him he doesn’t move.”
Meanwhile, Kamran is finally healthy again after nagging injuries cost him the second half of the season. Joyer made his only start of the season against Pittsburgh.
At 6-foot-3 and 282 pounds, when healthy Kamran adds versatility and depth to the Cardinals’ offensive line. He is one of 34 players from Florida on Louisville’s roster.
The matchup with his younger brother in the bowl game has motivated Kamran during the Cardinals’ Sugar Bowl practices.
“It’s driving me a lot,” he said. “I’ve been working real hard and giving it my all at practice to get back.”
The Joyer brothers returned home Friday evening following several days of intense practices. On Saturday they prepared for one of their Christmas gifts from Kirsten: a trip to a local masseur for a deep-tissue massage.
“They both are sore and limping around the house,” Kirsten said. “They look like they need one.”
They are spending a few days at home for the holidays and then will join opposite teams once more in New Orleans.
The matchup is drawing interest in their hometown. One of Kirsten’s colleagues on an Internet radio show she does is hosting a watch party at a local Beef O’ Brady’s as a fundraiser for local charities.
Those gathered will be keeping a close eye on No. 41 for the Gators and No. 68 for Louisville.
So will the Joyer contingent inside the Superdome.
“I was excited and horrified,” Kirsten said when she first heard of the matchup. “This is the greatest thing ever, but then whom do I root for? It’s a dream come true, but then you think you are torn.”
Kirsten said she quickly thought about how it must have been for the mother of Tampa Bay defensive back Ronde Barber and former Giants running back Tiki Barber when they played against each other in the NFL.
Hunter, the middle of the three Joyer boys — 11-year-old Chancellor is the youngest — had a different thought.