Up and Coming: The Brothers Naja

Dan and Nick Naja always played football together on the same team since they were 4 years old and they lived in Queens. It's not that often you see 2 boys only 10 months apart in the same age bracket and grade (and they have a 3rd brother only 10 months younger in Zack who is a stud in waiting) who enjoy playing with each other and aren't twins.

So when Nick decided to make the move from St. Anthony's School his brothers were attending, to Smithtown West, it was a move that many questioned but turned out to be a blessing in disguise for both brothers.

Back in Queens, Dan and Mary Naja and their 4 boys, Kyle Naja (22), Dan Naja (17), Nick Naja (16), and Zack Naja (15) were enamored with football (Hannah who is 6 came after the move). Dan played in high school, but his school dis-banned the game when he was younger and he never got to reach his full potential so he knew his boys could be better. Since they were young, he enlisted them in pee wee football in Queens and taught them to stay in shape as young boys. The boys all loved the game and were always playing whenever they could and their parents were always there supporting them. It was the perfect scenario.

So, after elementary school, the family moved to Long Island to get out of the city life and live a more suburban life. Their boys were growing up and schools out in Long Island offered a lot more diversity in sports than schools in Queens. They knew the boys had potential and could get scholarships to play for college which would help save money with growing tuition costs. Kyle played varsity at Smithtown West and was a very good player, but resigned to working after high school so Dan and Mary chose to enroll Dan, Nick, and Zach in a Catholic High School to give them different values. As a devout and faithful family, the boys were enrolled in St. Anthony's to play for Coach Reichert because the school is known for producing Division 1 talent. Dan was put on the offensive line at tackle because of his size and Nick was going to be used on the interior line.

During freshman year, Nick (who is more outgoing) was thrown a little bit of a curveball though. He wasn't enjoying the fact that at St. Anthony's he could only play one side of the ball…either offense or defense. He felt he could do more and fell at odds with playing as a freshman, so for sophomore year he decided to transfer over to Smithtown West to play for Coach Cerullo where he could play more positions. At first he wasn't going to play, but coach begged him to come try out and by the end of his sophomore year he was starting on the defensive line at DE. During his sophomore year, he totaled 9.5 sacks and was named one of the top 5 sophomores in the county. Dan was a consistent force as a back up on the offensive line his sophomore year at St. Anthony's. His coach was seeing a lot of consistency in his play so he placed him as starting left tackle for the following year.

Junior year for both boys was a breakout year. Dan became a left tackle at 6'2" and 275 lbs. for St. Anthony's and prides himself on not missing assignments in games. He says his best two games were against Xaverian and in the championship game against Iona where he didn't give up a sack and didn't miss any blocks he felt he should have made. He says his coach feels he is a solid force on the line who is very consistent and a great team player. He's been voted captain for his senior year already. Nick became starting defensive end and tackle for Smithtown West at 6'2" and 222 lbs. After being named "Newsday Division 2 player to watch" before his junior year, he had 10.5 sacks on the year and totaled 66 tackles leading the team in 9 games…at DE! He played OL, DL, DE, LB, and special teams all in the same year and was named honorable mention for his league. He felt his best game was against Smithtown East where he made a big time sack on a bootleg that kept his team in the game. He also logged 3 sacks against Copiague and 2 sacks against East Islip. It was enough for his position coach, Mike Brothers, who formerly played college football to witness his potential, keep on him to keep working out, and help him do drills regularly so he can play in college as well.

At the next level, Dan sees himself playing the offensive line at guard and is trying to dabble into playing center because he feels that makes him more marketable. He's also going to try to see what defensive line feels like at a few camps to see if he's as much a natural at playing nose tackle as his brother was playing defense. He is going to work on his footwork in the upcoming year because he feels he can improve there the most. Nick sees himself as an outside linebacker because he really enjoys getting after the quarterback and also enjoys dropping back into coverage. He loves making that big hit, sack, or a game changing interception. He also has been working on playing fullback because he feels he's a good fit there as well. He's working hard on learning to shed blockers in the running game because he's not used to that playing defensive end and a linebacker needs to know how to do that.

Both boys have been in a lot of contact with Division 1 schools. Right now, Nick is getting more interest from Football Bowl Subdivision schools and Dan is getting more interest in Football Championship Subdivision schools. Both boys have traveled to Buffalo for a visit, met head coach Turner Gill, and the Buffalo staff has been to their school for visits. Nick has spoken to Pittsburgh head coach Dan Wannstadt on the phone and has gotten letters from Rutgers, Penn State, and Vanderbilt asking him to attend their camps. He's also gotten letters from Monmouth and Stony Brook asking him to attend camp as well. His top 3 as it stands is Buffalo, Pitt, and Stony Brook.

Dan, besides Buffalo and Vanderbilt, has gotten interest from Marist, Holy Cross, Monmouth, Delaware, Bryant, and Old Dominion. While Nick has really reached out to colleges, Dan (who is a little more reserved) has looked to see where he fits in the best and has really benefitted from Nick's outreach. He and his father have been looking hard at seeing what kind of colleges use a player of his size on the OL, prior to trying their hand at seeing what he could do defensively because he hasn't played DL since the 8th grade. His top 3 is Marist, Bryant, and Holy Cross and his dream schools are Rutgers and Penn State.

More recently, they've been hitting the combine circuit and will be hitting the camp circuit this summer. They've both started playing basketball to improve their agility and still hit the weights. Both boys were invited to the Elite 100 at Rutgers where Dan was named one of the top 5 offensive linemen and Nick was named one of the top 3 defensive players and ran a 4.63 forty, the fastest among linebackers. This summer they, as a family, will be touring Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Their first camp they will hit is Lauren's First and Goal at Lafayette University on June 7th and from there it's off on the aforementioned camping tour set to start at Vanderbilt.

The boys still work out together at home as their dad has engrained in them…work out before you go out. They still have their weekly OL/DL battles in the front yard that at times end in a brotherly fight. They still help neighbors out mowing lawns and as Nick says "we are young and blessed to be in shape and that is what they should be doing to help". Dan hopes to one day become a history teacher and Nick hopes to one day become a personal trainer if the NFL isn't in the cards. Overall, they are going to be a great fit for a school that needs one (or two because they'd love to play together) hard working player(s) on their roster who understands how to give back to the community and has a tremendous upside!

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