Childhood Rivalry, Friendship Hits Big Stage for Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- In a game where Greg Schiano coaches against the program he built and Chris Ash returns to the site of his national championship ring as a defensive coordinator, one of the closest relationships is between childhood friends from North Jersey.

Forget coaching friendships or on-field rivalries between Ohio State and Rutgers because Zack Heeman and Noah Brown go back to the playground.

The fast-rising Ohio State receiver and Rutgers red-shirt sophomore Heeman grew up and attended school together as children. As they aged, the pair sparked a friendly rivlary after Brown left Flanders (N.J.) Mount Olive for an opportunity at Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXII.

Brown rose to prominence as a four-star receiver that chose Ohio State and Urban Meyer over Rutgers and recruiters Kyle Flood and Dave Cohen. Heeman, who stayed in the Mount Olive system, emerged as a two-sport star that stayed close to his family at Rutgers.

I've played up against him since he left Mount Olive and went to Pope John, so we've gone up against each other in football and basketball,” Heeman said. “It's always the same. It's really focusing on getting that win against a different opponent. After the game, I'll definitely give him a hug and talk to him a little bit. I'm definitely excited and I want to get the W.”

Divergent paths as teenagers had zero impact on the friendship between Heeman and Brown.

Heeman learned from knee surgery as a true freshman and was there for Brown during last season's devastating leg injury in camp.

On his bye week last year after he got hurt, they were playing Indiana,” Heeman said. “I was watching the game with him and trying to encourage him after he got his real bad injury. It was tough. He was having a really good camp from what he was telling me and it was really a bummer for a guy who put so much work in. I know how hard he works. I've known him, I've played flag football with him in first grade and we played basketball all the way up through middle school and all the way through high school until he went to Pope John.”

Brown has the production edge so far with his breakout start to 2016, but Heeman brings the edge in their childhood basketball days as a a tall, 1,000-point scorer for Mount Olive.

I'm sure he'd say him, but I think our record at the park will speak differently,” Heeman said on who is the better basketball player. “We go way back.”

The Heeman and Brown relationship includes another offensive BCS weapon – Florida State's Ryan Izzo. Izzo played with Brown at Pope John under coach Brian Carlson but goes back to grade school with Heeman.

Me and Noah and Izzo played on a spring AAU team starting in fifth grade,” Heeman said. “All three of us playing Division I football now is exciting to see. Then it was fun to play against Noah and Izzo in high school too. … Definitely two guys that I'll be close with.”

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