Big Bro Believes in Bryan

Bryan Kehl was awoken by a text message on draft day – hours before the first pick and more than a day before he was expected to be selected.

"It's 6:30. Just like Christmas morning, I can't sleep," the message from his brother, Brandon, read. "I'm looking at all the final mock drafts."

Kehl might have been ready to embark on a major journey in his life, but to say he was about to do it all alone would have been a misstatement because the BYU linebacker was bringing his entire family with him.

No Kehl was more excited that day than Bryan's father, Gary. But Brandon was a close second. In fact, he was so anxious that he went to a store a few days before the draft and bought 32 hats – one for each team in the league.

As the picks went by, Brandon took the cap of whichever team was on the clock and placed it on Bryan's head – even in the first round when no one expected him to be drafted. At about $25 apiece, he had forked over more than $800, so he knew he'd be returning 31 of them to get his money back.

He kept one – the Giants blue – after the team traded up to select Bryan with the 24th pick in the fourth round, No. 123 overall.

"We wanted to be ready for whatever team he got drafted by," Brandon said by phone from his home in Utah. "We were pretty confident he would go in the third round. By the time he got picked, we weren't paying much attention to the hats. But he was on the phone and as soon as we saw the Giants traded up, I went and grabbed the hat. We were thrilled when we found out where he was headed.

"When Coach Coughlin called, he was able to say, ‘I already have my hat on. Let's go win another Super Bowl.'"

Kehl has since gone from one big family (nine children, including six of whom are adopted) to another (80 players vying for 53 final roster spots). And after only two days of rookie minicamp, he could already tell how similar the two were.

"A lot of my brothers and sisters came in at different times and have different backgrounds," Kehl said. "What we did as a family is we all bound together, we're all a family of brothers and sisters and we treat each other as such, regardless of where we came from. And we're all working toward a common goal: brotherhood and love.

"It's like a football team because we all come from different circumstances and we all got here in different ways, but when it comes down to it that team has to mesh together as brothers and work toward the common goals."

So it was in the Kehl family, where sports often resulted in friendly but fierce competition. When Bryan was 16 and Brandon was 26, the two wrestled for the last time. Brandon, who said "the match almost killed me," was able to squeak out a victory. After the match, he promptly retired from living-room wrestling.

One year later, Bryan almost pulled off an upset in 1-on-1 basketball. Brandon immediately hung up his high tops.

"Bryan will never taste victory over me in basketball or wrestling," Brandon said. "I retired undefeated."

Brandon's football career was also cut short, but not by his own choice. He ruptured two disks in his back while playing safety for BYU and had to give up the sport. Older brother Ed took his career a bit further. In fact, he signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent defensive lineman in 1999, making him the first member of the Kehl family to play for Coughlin. But Ed was cut before training camp after struggling to balance football with the birth of his premature twins.

Needless to say, both brothers are enjoying Bryan's run to the NFL.

"My career got cut short before I had a chance at any glory," Brandon said, "so I have to live all my glory through him now."

As much as Bryan has been strengthened by the support of his family members, it was the time he spent away from them that really helped him mature.

For two years, he served his Mormon mission in Toronto. He was allowed two phone calls per year (Mother's Day and Christmas) and one e-mail per week. Being on his own in a foreign country made him grow up quickly.

"They do that for a purpose – so that you focus and stand on your own two feet," Kehl said. "You have to take care of yourself. You can't be a Momma's boy anymore.

"They say you leave a boy and come back a man. It's clichéd and corny, but it's true. I was immature and self-centered, focused on my needs and all of a sudden, you're serving other people."

Again, Kehl sees comparisons to football.

"We're away from our family and this is a team so we have to help other people and take care of the team first," he said. "When you do that, you have winning organizations like the Giants."

The Kehls are all glad Bryan is now a part of that organization.

"As far as my family, we couldn't imagine a better fit than New York," Brandon said. "We're excited for him and we know he's pumped."

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