"Robert has always looked up to me," Denzel Nkemdiche, now a senior, said. "I've always been there for him when he needed me."
Now four years later, the two are trying to map out how and where they're going to play together in college.
But the two have taken different paths to this point.
The Nkemdiche family is originally from Nigeria—the brother's mom is still living and working overseas in Africa. The boys live with their father, who works in the medical field.
"My mom works out of the country and my dad is always working," Denzel said. "I've kind of helped Robert through all this. He kind of started playing football because I started. He's trying to follow me at the same time."
After taking up football at such a late age, both Denzel and Robert grew into excellent players in their own respective capacities.
Denzel's speedy and short—playing in the secondary, at linebacker and as a running back.
Robert is massive and strong. Still just a sophomore in high school, he's already an imposing 6-foot-5, 265-pounds. He projects to be a 5-star recruit at defensive end in the 2013 class. He's already got offers from virtually everywhere in the country, with a short list of favorites that currently includes Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
But deep down, there's really only one prerequisite he's looking for in a school—his brother Denzel.
"My brother and I have such a close bond," Robert Nkemdiche said. "I just want to go to the school he wants to go. That's where I'll end up."
He signed to play for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in February because his grades were keeping major offers away. The hope was he could do his time at the junior college level for two seasons and then transfer wherever Robert decided to play.
"Coaches started recruiting me last year, but then they saw my grades and began to back off," Denzel, 5-foot-11, 195-pounds, said. "I knew I was capable of turning heads on the field, and I knew eventually recruiting was going to come back up."
Once Denzel started making progress in the classroom the recruiting interest did come back around.
"After I had taken the SAT, the coaches started calling," he said. "It was the right score, but it was flagged because of the difference from my first score and my second score was such a jump. So schools saw that I was probably going to qualify once that was settled."
As of right now, Denzel says he's on track to have both the grade point average and the SAT score he needs to qualify for college.
"I had such a low GPA that I had to get a high SAT score," he said. "That was pretty much it. My GPA is about to break a 2.0, and I have the SAT score I need so I should be good."
Why were his grades subpar?
"Because my freshman and sophomore years I was taking all gifted classes," Denzel answers. "I was passing them with Ds. That dropped my GPA down. Those grades were all 1's as far the points system goes. That's what really got me down."
Currently, Denzel says he's making good on what colleges told him he needed to do to get in. And he says he'll make his final decision by May 28 (his graduation date). He's visiting Ole Miss Tuesday. And this weekend, he and Robert plan to talk about where matters currently stand in terms of playing together at the next level.
"We're going to sit down and really talk about schools and where we need to go," Denzel said. "We'll see what sticks out to him at a certain school and what sticks out to me at a certain school. We'll kind of end on one school."
The two brothers are certainly on different recruiting tracks. Denzel made a late scramble to become eligible. He's essentially coming down to the final minute before making his destination known.
Robert on the other hand, will have his pick of nearly every school in the nation. The differences matter none, Denzel claims. The two are playing together in college. Both brothers insist.
"Oh yeah that's going to happen for sure. It's 100 percent," Denzel said.
Despite the complications, the plan is how it's always been--Denzel will lead. Robert will follow.