When Navy junior Obi Uzoma finishes a drill for the outside linebackers, he has a vested interest in watching the rest of the position's players go through, and it has nothing to do with protecting his turf as the primary backup to starter Jordan Drake.
Uzoma's intrigue stems from the presence of his younger brother, freshman Nnamdi Uzoma.
The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Obi Uzoma said he and his younger brother compare notes "after every game, after every major scrimmage, after every practice."
"It's awesome," the 6-3, 220-pound Nnamdi Uzoma said. "The fact that you know that you have someone there who is watching you, keeping his eye on you, is looking out for you — just like I would do for him — it's a good feeling. Just what any brother could ask for."
Brotherhood, which carries a certain significance at the Naval Academy, has an expanded meaning for the football program, which boasts five sets of brothers. That number ties the Midshipmen with Army and Wisconsin for the most sets of brothers on a team in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season.
Brothers playing football at Navy has been almost a yearly tradition. The Person family is perhaps the most famous after sending four sons — Andrew (who graduated in 1996), Christopher (1998), Daniel (2003), and Joseph (2007) — through Annapolis.
In addition to the Uzomas, the current team has freshman slotback Kendrick Mouton and freshman quarterback Kenneth Mouton; senior safety Wave Ryder and sophomore center Blaze Ryder; sophomore fullback Chris Swain and freshman slotback Myles Swain; and junior linebacker Joe Worth and freshman quarterback Will Worth.
"I just think it shows that the older brothers who come, although it's hard, it's a great place to be," said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose eldest brother James is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. "So they can relate to their brothers some of their experiences. I think more than what any recruiters or coaches or any of us can say, they just listen to their brothers. I think it's a great experience for brothers to go to school anywhere, but to come to a service academy [like] the Naval Academy, it's cool to have those sets of brothers on the team."
Case in point: Blaze Ryder had a scholarship offer from Saint Francis (Pa.), a Football Championship Subdivision program, but changed his mind after talking to older brother Wave.
"It was a big factor, because I was leaning toward going to Saint Francis, but my brother ended up convincing me," Blaze Ryder said. "He told me all the benefits you get from coming to school here, all the opportunities, and just the opportunity to play at the next level with my brother. I could only do it here."
Wave Ryder downplayed his level of involvement in his brother's decision, saying, "I just tried to point out the positives, why I wanted to come here. Give him perspective."
The older players can help their younger brothers navigate the rigors of campus life, academic expectations and even homesickness. Myles Swain said older brother Chris was instrumental in helping him persevere through the Naval Academy Preparatory School, which is infamous for filtering potential plebes.
"It was real tough," Myles Swain said. "A lot of people thought about leaving. … I did [too] — a couple times. I talked to Chris about it. He told me to stick to it."
Of course, attending the same school as a brother does invite ribbing from teammates. The Swain brothers said they've heard the comments that they look alike. ("I don't really see it," Chris Swain said. "But everyone else does.") The teasing intensifies whenever the older Swain scores a touchdown, which he has done four times this season.
"Whenever he scores, they make jokes saying like I scored," Myles Swain said with a smile.
The Ryders aren't even on the same side of the ball, but that doesn't stop either from offering constructive criticism.
"I just watch him when he's playing, and when he comes off the field, I'll give him some pointers," Blaze Ryder said. "Tell him to hit harder, run faster. We try to play better so that we can motivate each other."
Wave Ryder admits those "pointers" can grate on him. "Sometimes in the heat of a game, it'll kind of get to me, but I know he means well," he said. "I just take it lightly and make the most of it."
In the end, sharing the team's success with a brother is enormously gratifying.
"It's really special," Obi Uzoma said. "We can go back to our friends in North Carolina and tell them that we're both experiencing what's going on here, and it's really nice to know that I have somebody other than my teammates that I can actually go and talk to about what's going on. It's a good experience, good bonding."
"I feel the same way," Nnamdi Uzoma said. "We can talk about anything, and even though we have football, just to have that bond is really awesome."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun