When senior wide receiver Max Kirin scored the Muhlenberg football team’s first touchdown in Saturday’s NCAA Division III tournament quarterfinal at Salisbury, that was Spencer Kirin’s touchdown, too.
Spencer Kirin, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior outside linebacker, was the one who pounced on a fumble that the Mules offense turned into his older brother’s 23-yard catch to take a 7-0 lead against the Sea Gulls with 6:38 left in the first quarter. And per Muhlenberg tradition, the coaching staff sought out Spencer on the sideline and credited him with Max’s score.
Three days after the team’s 24-8 victory, Spencer Kirin said the brothers personally challenge each other to make the first big play of each game.
“Before every game, Max and I talk to each other and get each other hyped up to go make a play,” Spencer, 20, said. “So once I went out there and made that play, I’m sure he was even more motivated to now make a play, and once he does that, I want to go back out there and make a play. We just build off of each other’s success and feed off of that.”
Max, a 21-year-old who is 2 inches shorter than his brother but weighs as much as he does, was more than happy to share his touchdown with Spencer.
“He’s the one who started that whole thing,” he said. “So it definitely goes to him.”
The Kirin brothers, who grew up in Eldersburg and graduated from Liberty High School, have played significant roles in the No. 4 Mules’ stellar season, which includes marching to a 13-0 record, setting a program mark for wins in a single season, and capturing their first outright Centennial Conference title since 2008.
The only undefeated team left in the Division III playoffs, Muhlenberg will make its first appearance in the national semifinals when it plays host to a No. 5 North Central (Illinois) squad that is 12-1 and upset No. 2 and 13-time NCAA champion Mount Union in the second round.
Kickoff on Saturday at noon will be a special moment for the Kirin brothers.
“Playing with each other in high school was such a great time, and getting to play with him for three more years in college is something I didn’t think I was going to be able to do,” Max said. “It’s not something a lot of brothers get to do, but it’s definitely awesome to be able to have the same experience with him in college and go through the same football routines and college lifestyle.”
The Kirins are actually one of three sets of brothers on the Mules roster, which includes senior defensive end Frankie and sophomore wide receiver Michael Feaster and junior cornerback Robert and freshman linebacker Matthew Giuliano. What distinguishes the Kirin brothers is their relationship, according to coach Nate Milne.
“They’re always rooting for each other and then deep down inside, I think they’re always competing with each other, which I think has driven them one way or another,” he said. “I think Max realizes how talented his younger brother is, and Spencer has always looked up to his older brother. So when Max kind of felt the pressure with Spencer being as big as him and so forth, I think he has pushed himself.”
As an example, Milne pointed out that the Kirin brothers have called each other out during one-on-one passing drills in practice, which is a team favorite. But Spencer Kirin said he and his brother don’t get as excited about their personal battles as much as their teammates do.
“They’re trying to egg us on and get us going when in reality we’re just happy to be out there competing against each other,” he said. “After the rep, we’ll come back and talk. ‘Why did you do that? I didn’t expect you to do that.’ Or he’ll tell me what he was thinking, and it just gets us both better when we do stuff like that.”
Max Kirin joked that he and his brother “are kind of the same person.” The one fast-food restaurant they visit every time they return to Eldersburg is Chick-fil-A, their favorite type of music is hip hop, and their favorite musical artist is Drake. Max is majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics, while Spencer is majoring in mathematics with a minor in computer science.
Liberty coach Larry Luthe knows the Kirin family well. He had coached Max when he was a seventh grader playing for the Sykesville Raiders, and Spencer is a close friend of Luthe’s son Corey, who is a junior outside linebacker at the College of New Jersey.
“They’re the nicest kids off the field, but when they got on the field, they had that switch that great football players have, competitive people have,” Luthe recalled. “They play with a little bit of an attitude, a little bit of swagger to them, and I know that sometimes it would get under the opponents’ skin, but you knew that was just their way of making sure that they were going to play at a high level.”
The Kirin brothers have exceled this season for Muhlenberg. Max ranks second on the team in receiving yards (723) and touchdown catches (12) and fourth in receptions (37), and he was named the Centennial Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year on Nov. 26. Spencer ranks second on the defense in solo tackles (45) and third in total tackles (61) and sacks (5½) and is tied for fourth in tackles for loss (eight).
Milne noted that Max and Spencer play every special teams phase except field goals and extra points.
“If we don’t have those guys, we don’t have a chance,” he said. “I mean that wholeheartedly. Those two are on everything. … It is vitally important. And even if they’re not lighting up the stat sheet with interceptions and touchdowns, they’re going to have a major impact on the football game this weekend.”
If the Mules can get past the Cardinals, they would face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 8 St. John’s (MN) (12-1) and No. 10 Wisconsin-Whitewater (12-1) in the title game on Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Tex. As tantalizing as that prospect is, Spencer Kirin said he, his brother and their teammates can’t get caught up in that what-if.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he said. “Our mindset this week is, we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’re still pushing. We’re not done yet. We’re still trying to get to that next game, and we’re not going to think about what we’ve accomplished until it’s all said and done. We’re still trying to accomplish more.”