BILLINGS — A true freshman doesn’t often play for a Top 5 team in the country, let alone two true freshmen, let alone twin true freshmen. But Caden and Taco Dowler have always defied the odds.
"It should surprise me," said mom Michelle McLean. "But it kind of doesn’t."
McLean isn’t bragging - she’s just seen it first hand for 19 years.
"Watching them play sports is one of my favorite things to do," she said.
So it’s been a good life for McLean. Sports has ruled Caden and Taco’s life since an early age, though dad Justin remembers a pivotal moment.
"Little guy football, their very first year, Taco immediately got some time and was playing running back," he said. "But they thought Caden was slow so they stuck him on the line. So we're lucky he didn't quit."
Caden was actually a better baseball player than anything for a long time, until Taco convinced him to come back to the gridiron at Billings West. And when your twin brother and best friend says something, you listen.
"They’ve spent every single second together since I’ve had them," McLean said. "We tried to divvy them up and send them to different classes, but they always seem to migrate back to each other."
Now, just because they’re twins doesn’t mean they’re exactly alike. We spoke to McLean and boyfriend Todd Vralsted in Caden's room, because Taco's was, in their words, a complete mess.
"Very typical," McLean laughed. "We actually just moved, and when we removed the bed from Taco's room, we said, 'We'll just shut that door.'"
They’re not rooming together at MSU, maybe a blessing for Caden who acts like the older brother - he gave up his nickname of burrito long ago, while Taco’s self-proclaimed moniker has always stuck. But the two spend plenty of time together.
"They told me, ‘If we get homesick, we just go to each other’s rooms,'" McLean said with a smile.
Caden and Taco are each other’s best hype men.
"They won’t talk about what they’ve done individually, but they’ll talk about their brother," Vralsted said. "Taco will talk about Caden and how great he's doing in certain areas, and Caden will say the same thing about Taco."
"Anybody who's competitive is going to have a little bit of competitiveness with a sibling," Justin said. "Although I know it exists, it doesn't ever override the fast that they're brothers."
And there’s been plenty to praise. Caden is seeing meaningful snaps as a defensive back, and Taco is already doing Taco things - most recently, catching a long pass to set up the game winning field goal at Northern Arizona. Surprising to many people, but not mom.
"It doesn't surprise me because they just work - they work so hard," McLean said. "I don't know enough about each level, but they’re gonna show up when they need to show up."
And always with each other - it’s a packaged deal.