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October 24, 2008
Brothers make impact at San Jose State
Week 9: Game of the Week | Keep an eye on | Five to watch | Expert picks | Weekend primer
There are a couple of unfamiliar names atop the list of NCAA statistical leaders this week.
Actually, it's only one unfamiliar name.
San Jose State junior defensive end Carl Ihenacho shares the NCAA lead with two tackles for loss per game, while younger brother Duke, a sophomore linebacker, has five interceptions to tie for first place in that category.
Not bad for siblings who didn't play organized football until they were upperclassmen at Serra High School in Gardena, Calif.
"I sit down with my brother and talk to him (and say), 'Five years ago, could you have pictured us playing football, playing together and leading the NCAA in a category?' '' Carl Ihenacho said. "We laugh about it.''
How rare is this? It might be unprecedented.
San Jose State's sports information department surveyed all the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) schools and the NCAA statistics service and found no previous instances of brothers leading the nation in different statistical categories at any point in a season. San Jose State spokesman Lawrence Fan pointed out that the NCAA didn't start compiling complete defensive statistics in every category until 2000.
Dubbed the "Nacho Brothers" by their San Jose State teammates, the Ihenachos have delivered crunching hits to opposing offenses all season. They can make San Jose State (5-2) eligible for its second bowl bid in three seasons Friday night by leading the defense-minded Spartans to an upset of undefeated Boise State.
Boise State enters the game as a 7.5-point favorite. Then again, the Ihenachos have been beating the odds throughout their brief careers.
They wanted to play organized football as kids, but their chances of playing Pop Warner vanished once their mother accompanied them to a practice.
"We went to one practice and didn't even suit up," Carl Ihenacho said. "She just watched the practice, saw a head-on collision from two younger kids and just walked us home. We never went out to play football again until high school."
They spent most of their teen years playing basketball instead, but Duke decided to play for Serra's football team as a junior. Before long, his older brother had joined him.
"After a couple of practices, I convinced my brother to come play with me," Duke Ihenacho said. "He didn't really want to play because he was more focused on grades, but he's my brother. I did a lot of convincing and he eventually came around."
Carl never seriously considered the possibility of playing college football. After all, he hadn't started playing organized football at all until his senior year in high school.
His plans changed when San Jose State running backs coach Charles Nash approached him after the season and asked if he was interested in playing for the Spartans. San Jose State's faith in Carl Ihenacho was rewarded one year later when his younger brother joined him on campus.
"I can't trust any one coach or recruiter more than I can trust my own brother," Duke Ihenacho said. "If he said he was comfortable here and liked it here, I knew I would like it here."
The brothers wasted no time making an impact.
Carl's lack of football experience didn't stop him from starting three games as a true freshman and posting a team-high five sacks last season. He recorded six tackles for loss last week in a 31-14 triumph over New Mexico State and has 14 this season.
Carl also is tied for 10th in the nation in sacks (seven) and tied for fifth in forced fumbles (three). Ihenacho and TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes are the only FBS players to rank among the nation's top 10 in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles.
Duke has four interceptions in his past three games to give him five on the season, which ties him with Tennessee's Eric Berry and Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett for the NCAA lead. He has scored on 43-yard interception returns in each of the past two games, first against Utah State, then against New Mexico State last week.
The Ihenacho brothers have been equally impressive off the field.
"The story on both of these young men isn't so much their football but what kind of people they are, what kind of family they come from and being such outstanding students and people," San Jose State coach Dick Tomey said.
While Tomey praises their ability in the classroom, the Ihenachos also have developed into outstanding students of the game. Just imagine what they could accomplish when they actually have a more than a few years of football experience.
"I honestly don't think me and my brother are close to our potential," Duke Ihenacho said. "I feel that every year I get better. … Every year there's something different I get better at. I don't think anytime soon I'm going to reach the level where I think I've got it down pat.
"I've still got a lot to learn because I'm still new to the game, and my brother is, too."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.