Davon House was like every youngster who aspires to be just like his older brother.
Naturally, that meant the competition between House and his brother, Tyreace, began at an early age. Each day another exercise in who was faster, who was the better center fielder, who could throw a ball farther.
To this day, friends and family joke about how they could be twins if it wasn't for the 16 months that divide them. Inseparable since they were toddlers, Tyreace remembers Davon being his "shadow" in nearly every sport or activity in grade school.
It honored Tyreace, but he also knew something his little brother didn't.
"I already knew my brother had talent," Tyreace said.
Not just the kind of talent that makes you the all-Golden League running back of the year, either. It was the kind that you're born with. Those rare intangibles you cannot coach no matter how much you try.
Once high school came around, however, all that ability was being channeled toward baseball. Davon simply didn't like football as much as Tyreace did. At least, not immediately.
It took Davon until his junior year to reassess joining his older brother on the football field. Since the two had so much fun playing baseball together, maybe it was worth giving football a second chance during Tyreace's final year.
"Everything he did, I wanted to do," Davon said. "If he didn't play football his senior year, I wouldn't have played my junior year, at all."
Tyreace starred as a two-way player at Palmdale (Calif.) High School, but conceded his starting spot at cornerback to Davon after a disagreement with a new coach about tackling technique resulted in him switching to offense only.
That was the beginning of what the House brothers call their "switcheroo." The football-centric Tyreace was selected in the 49th round of the MLB draft and attended Junior College of the Canyons for a year before the Oakland A's drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
Meanwhile, House's senior year of baseball was sidetracked by a broken finger and his attention shifted more toward football. As his brother and father predicted, he was pretty good at it, too.
After making the permanent move from flanker to cornerback, Kevin and Shelyne House gave their son enough money to make about 25 or 30 highlight DVDs to send out to whatever college addresses he could find.
USC and UCLA didn't bite, but New Mexico State did with a scholarship offer on the table if he impressed at their camp.
He made good on the opportunity, putting into motion a series of events that led to the Green Bay Packers, but not without a series of twists and turns in the road for Davon and Tyreace.
Packing a punch
Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt categorizes Davon as one of the three hardest-hitting cornerbacks he's coached — right up there with former Packers cornerback Al Harris — but it wasn't always that way.
Tyreace remembers his brother as a scrawny, 160-pounder in high school. Davon still was only about 170 pounds when he arrived at New Mexico State, but he kept working on his build.
While Tyreace was playing in the A's minor league system, Davon lived in the weight room and cafeteria at New Mexico State. Each time Tyreace saw his brother, he noticed he wasn't so little anymore.
"Every year, I saw a change," said Tyreace, who goes 5-feet-10, 205 pounds. "His shoulders get wider. His hands get bigger, his arms get bigger. He looks way bigger than me."
At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, House was a legitimate NFL prospect by the time the draft came around in 2011. In the fourth round, the Packers made him the 25th defensive back selected.
The potential was obvious, but there were many times Whitt grew frustrated with him. He could see a strong, physical corner waiting to hatch, but House wasn't using his hands like he should. It was like watching Nolan Ryan hiding his fastball.
"It's sort of funny because I got (ticked) off at him when I finally did the punch drill and let him punch me and felt his power," Whitt said. "I got really, really mad. I said, 'You're letting people block you. There's no way with your hands and your power. They can't block you and they can't get off routes.' I got furious with him and I had to take a step back and was like, I have to develop this guy. He has a skill set that's unique. Let's get him there."
The brothers communicated a lot during that time. Tyreace even surprised his younger brother at one training camp practice during his rookie season. After a game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, he made the 30-minute trip north to take in the camp experience.
As he watched Davon bike to practice, Tyreace quickly got his attention.
"I said, 'Devo,' because I'm the only person to call him Devo," Tyreace said. "He literally stopped the bike with the kid he was walking with. He dropped the bike and everybody was looking at us. He was like 'This is my brother right here.' The fans were all clapping. I got a pass for the practice field and was on the practice field with them watching them practice."
A few weeks later, Tyreace played what would be his final season of minor league baseball.
"A hard month"
The release hit Tyreace hard. He was an unemployed 24-year-old with a high school diploma. He feared telling his parents.
Tyreace plotted his next move for a few weeks before finally talking to Davon, who posed an interesting question: What about football?
Davon's former coach, Hal Mumme, was coaching at McMurry University, a school in Abilene, Texas, in midst of a transition to Division II.
The idea was appealing. It was Tyreace's chance to get an education and play football again. The acceptance process took a week and he flew down with three bags in hand.
The heat took some getting used to. After his car was sent over, he made a beeline to get his air conditioning fixed. After the repair, he, a few teammates and one of McMurry's coaches were driving when his tire blew and the vehicle pulled hard to the left.
Tyreace wasn't wearing his seat belt. He was ejected from the vehicle, which flipped six times, he was told. Tyreace remembers nothing. At best, it was a blur. They struggled to locate him initially because he was thrown to the other side of the freeway.
He didn't break any bones, but tore a tendon in his finger and had half of his ear ripped off. The facial lacerations required a plastic surgeon and more than 100 stitches.
The swelling made him unrecognizable at first, but the first person he saw after regaining consciousness was Davon, who was supposed to be in Green Bay for the offseason program.
"It touched me like I had somebody I saw first that was my blood brother," Tyreace said. "I was kind of confused. How is he here? I thought I was dreaming, but he was there and gave me a hug and a kiss. After that, I was in and out, in and out, but I told him I love him."
Tyreace was fearful he'd never play football again, but Davon reassured him everything was going to be OK. The brothers cried together, and Davon even gave him a pair of Beats headphones he'd received during his rookie season.
Davon traveled back to Green Bay in better spirits with the knowledge his brother was going to be OK, but still somber about how close he came to losing his best friend.
"That was tough," Davon said. "My thing was try to not get emotional when I saw him, so I could try to stay strong for him. It was tough even thinking about losing my best friend growing up. It was a hard, hard month really."
Tyreace made a full recovery, but played sparingly his first year at McMurry. He didn't mind, especially coming off a six-year layoff from football. It also allowed him to begin his work toward a business degree.
He's now a junior linebacker and kick returner for the War Hawks, though he's hoping to get another shot at running back next year. More than 1,200 miles away, Davon has stepped into the starting lineup with Sam Shields out with a strained patellar tendon.
Davon has had a difficult journey of his own. He played only two games his rookie season and then suffered a shoulder subluxation in training camp that sidelined him for the first six weeks of the 2012 season.
House's rise up the depth chart couldn't have come with better timing. He's in the final year of his rookie contract and chances are good he'll be in for a sizable payday this offseason.
Back home, however, Tyreace's message remains the same: Take nothing for granted.
"I always tell him, I thought baseball was going to be it," Tyreace said. "I was going to go all the way to the pros, work, work, work and be there the whole time, and then I get the phone call and that was it. I told him you need to think about it like that because after football, you have to figure out something. Every player that's in the NFL is going to have to find another job."
The two still keep tabs on each other's games, and like in high school, they're brutally honest. Neither is afraid to tell the other when they played "OK" or even "horrible."
There's also been a lot heart-to-heart moments, too, like two years ago when Tyreace told Davon how much he respected him.
"I said, 'Remember you told me like I'm always going to look up to you?" Tyreace said. "Now, I'm the one looking up to you. You're my idol now."
The words again brought tears to Davon's eyes, but the message was true. The roles have reversed and Tyreace couldn't be more proud.
"I want to be where he is at," Tyreace said. "I want to do what he is doing now instead of him doing what I'm doing. I'm doing good things now, but at the same time, now he's up there where I want to be at. He's doing stuff that I want to do, too. I wish I was in his shoes now. I really do."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.