‘I got your back’: Brothers play for BYU tennis team

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Ty Mullen
Sam Tullis, right, puts his arm around his younger brother, Jacob, after practice on Oct. 11. The Tullis brothers both play for BYU. (Ty Mullen)

The scores were 7-6, 6-0 and 7-6, 6-0.

Jacob Tullis broke two rackets. His older brother, Sam, had taken the win at their finals match in the Logan Tennis Tournament a decade ago.

No one imagined the Tullis brothers would even make it this far.

Sam was 12 years old and Jacob was 11, playing in the 14–16-year-old division. The two had joined separate divisions but had beat out their older opponents and met in the finals.

The brothers were close in skill level, but Jacob had a temper and quit in the match against Sam. After that, their parents never let them play each other again.

Sam and Jacob laughed about the whole experience.

“It was pretty savage,” Jacob said. “I was being really petty. We would get on changeovers and I’m like, ‘You’re an idiot.’ I was just trying to get under (Sam’s) skin.”

Tiffin Tullis
Jacob Tullis with a cut out of Rafael Nadal at the US Open in 2006.

Sam and Jacob have come a long way since then and are now teammates on the BYU men’s tennis team.

The Tullis brothers got hooked on the sport because of their parents, but not in a common way.

“When they were dating, my mom beat my dad (at tennis) on a date, and my dad got into tennis just so he wouldn’t lose to her again,” Jacob said.

According to their mother, Tiffin Tullis, Sam and Jacob began playing tennis at ages 9 and 7.

Tiffin Tullis
Sam Tullis at a Utah High School State Tennis tournament in 2012. (Tiffin Tullis)

“The only thing I can take credit for is signing (Sam and Jacob) up for classes when they were little. Their father deserves all the credit for their success,” Tiffin said.

The Tullis brothers remember waking up early in the morning to practice tennis with their dad.

“My dad used to buy us breakfast because we would wake up really early to play tennis,” Jacob said. “My dad (would) say, ‘OK, whoever wins gets to pick breakfast,’ and we would always pick the same thing for breakfast.”

The brothers laughed as they remembered teasing one another about not picking their favorite breakfast if they won.

“We would always toy with each other: ‘I’m not gonna pick it!'” Sam said. “And the other one would be in tears, ‘Just kidding, I’m gonna pick it.’”

Tiffin Tullis
Sam Tullis with a cut out of Roger Federer at the US Open in 2006.

It was always the sausage, egg and cheese McGriddles from McDonald’s, according to Sam.

Tiffin said though Sam and Jacob were competitive and teased each other a lot, they are the best of friends.

“Growing up they were very competitive against one another, and yet they could leave it on the court, walk off and still be friends,” Tiffin said.

Tiffin said she is proud of her sons for their accomplishment to play collegiate tennis, but she said the friendship between the two brothers is what she is most proud of.

“I’m sure, like every one of us, junior high is not easy, and so they stuck together,” Tiffin said. “They have such a close relationship where they really look out for each other. They take care of each other.”

Jacob Tullis at a Utah High School State Tennis tournament in 2012. (Tiffin Tullis)

Sam, the oldest of six children, was the first to play for BYU. He spent a year on the team before Jacob joined.

According to Sam, the past two years playing with Jacob on the BYU team have been much more enjoyable because he has someone who he can count on.

“The enjoyment level has definitely gone up a lot,” Sam said. “I know he’ll have my back even though he’ll be like, ‘You’re an idiot, but I got your back.'”

According to Sam, because of court configuration, he is placed playing near the crowd of the opposing team most of the time.

Sam said it’s been nice to have his brother there to support him. The brothers have always been there to cheer each other on.

 “It’ll be me against (the opponent’s) whole team, and then Jake will be taking down their whole team cheering,” Sam said. “He’s kind of a one-man army sometimes. It actually makes a big difference, (and) it’s been a lot more fun.”

The Tullis children all play tennis. Jacob and Sam hope their younger siblings come to BYU to play, but they aren’t pressuring them.

“We haven’t put pressure on them for anything,” Jacob said. “We’ve shown them that (BYU) is a really great place to be. Here, you can really excel in a lot of things — academics and sports.”

Tennis has brought the Tullis brothers closer to each other, according to Tiffin. Whether on or off the court, these two best friends are each other’s biggest supporters.

“They have been really close because of their tennis,” Tiffin said. “They make sure that they’re both improving, not just on the court, but off.”

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