(Montreal Gazette, January 14, 2000)


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When the Hage brothers were growing up in war-torn Lebanon, the sound of bombs exploding outside their Beirut home would often wake them in the middle of the night.

As the night sky blinked with each explosion, they would seek shelter in the basement with other family members.

At dawn, if the shelling had ceased, they would venture outdoors to collect debris, which they would use as toys - until another wave of explosions would send them scurrying home.

''I wasn't really scared of the bombs,'' said Marwan Hage, now 18 years old. "When you're born into (war), it becomes normal after a while.''

"I remember everything,'' added his 19-year-old brother Rudy. "The broken windows, the house shaking, and my parents waking us up in the middle of the night. We were just lucky that none of us died.''

The family moved nearly 100 times in 10 years to try to escape the indiscriminate shelling.

Finally, in 1990, the family of Antoine and Hayat Hage fled to Montreal, where they began a new life.

Now, though, the family's two youngest children, Rudy and Marwan, are on the move again.

All-Star Linemen

This time, however, they are not fleeing a childhood nightmare, but are chasing a dream coveted by many North Americans of their age and size, if not their birthplace: U.S college football.

The CEGEP all-star linemen from Vanier College in St. Laurent recently landed athletic scholarships to the University of Colorado, where the only bombs fired overhead are from the arms of quarterbacks.

Yesterday, the entire Hage family was on hand to bid the boys farewell at Dorval airport.

Tears were shed, mostly by the departing brothers in the arms of their mother.

The farewell brought a warm smile from Earl De La Perralle, their former Sun Youth midget coach who pulled a few strings to land the scholarships, each worth an estimated $30,000 U.S. per year.

"They're all big, tough football studs until they have to say goodbye to their mothers,'' De La Perralle said with a chuckle. "Then they cry like babies. It happens every time.''

If nothing else, Rudy and Marwan's absence at the family dinner table should finally give their mother a welcome break in the kitchen of their Town of Mount Royal home.

"Our mother is a great cook,'' said Rudy, a defensive rush end. "Sometimes, she cooked too much, but everything got eaten.''

The boys, apparently, eat really well. Before, during and after dinner.

Rudy stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 255 pounds. His little bother, Marwan, is 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at 265.

If that didn't keep the fridge door ajar more often than not, in stepped their older brother, Elias, a 272-pounder who also attended an American college (East Texas State) on a football scholarship a few years ago and is responsible for introducing his brothers to peewee football.

Classes Start Next Week

Elbowing her way to the table was their sister, Joelle, now a 23-year-old law-school graduate of the Universite de Montreal.

While professional football remains a long-term dream for both Rudy and Marwan, the brothers will begin business classes next week with the intention of eventually returning to Montreal to support their father's transportation enterprise, Seachart Marine Inc.

The company has grown from two to 28 employees since the Hages came to Canada on March 17, 1990.

"We love football, but we are a very close family,'' said Marwan, an offensive lineman and one of the top-rated college prospects in Canada. "We owe our parents a lot because they've always supported us.''

De La Perralle said there was a lot of interest in the Hage brothers, but he refrained from packaging them as a 2-for-1 deal to college recruiters.

"It's not fair to tell a football coach that you can't have one brother without taking the other. There might be a feeling that one brother is carrying the other for a free ride and that doesn't benefit anyone.

"In this case, both of them are very good players and good students, so they opted to go together,'' said De La Perralle, who last year helped direct Patrick Kabongo, a giant defensive lineman from Point St. Charles, to the University of Nebraska.

Marwan and Rudy, who'll be dorm roommates as well as teammates, weighed several scholarship offers, including one from Wake Forest, but settled on the University of Colorado Buffaloes because of the school's academic reputation and the coaching staff of head coach Gary Barnett.

"And the city of Boulder is very clean, and new, '' remarked Ruby, who recently attended a thrilling U of C contest against their Big 12 Conference rivals from Nebraska, which the Cornhuskers won in overtime.

"There were more than 60,000 people at the game and the atmosphere was incredible," Rudy said.

And since most, if not all, of Colorado's games will be televised in the United States next year, the Hage family recently purchased a satellite dish to view all the action at home.

"We didn't even know what football was when we arrived in Canada,'' said Antoine Hage.

"In Lebanon, football was what North Americans call soccer. But now we watch every game my sons play. I am so very proud.''