Twins Chase, Sydney Brown continuing to live their football dream at Illinois

·6 min read

Chase and Sydney Brown are again living their football dream.

Growing up, the identical twins from London, Ont., often dreamt about playing U.S. college football together. That aspiration was put on hold in 2018 when they went to different schools but rekindled briefly last year when Chase Brown transferred from Western Michigan to rejoin his brother at Illinois.

Chase Brown played four games in 2019 but redshirted for the remainder of the season before returning to the lineup full-time this year. Illinois (2-3) has won two straight games but is a decided 28.5-point underdog for Saturday's showdown with No. 3 Ohio State (4-0).

"This is what we dreamt about as kids," Sydney Brown said during a videoconference this week. "Having him come here has been like having a piece of home here in Illinois.

"It's been great so far."

Chase Brown, a five-foot-11, 195-pound sophomore running back, is coming off consecutive 100-yard performances. After rushing for a career-high 131 yards in 23-20 win over Rutgers on Nov. 14, Brown ran for 115 yards and two TDs as Illinois got past Nebraska 41-23 victory last weekend.

Brown has rushed for a team-high 357 yards on 61 carries (5.9-yard average) and two TDs while adding three receptions for 15 yards.

Sydney Brown, a six-foot, 200-pound junior starting defensive back, had five tackles (three solo, half a tackle for a loss) against Rutgers before recording six tackles (one solo) versus Nebraska. He has 33 tackles (18 solo, the half-tackle for a loss) and a forced fumble this season.

After missing the first two games of '19 due to injury, Sydney Brown started 10-of-11 contests, registering 88 tackles (51 solo), 2.5 for a loss with three interceptions (one returned for a TD).

After starting their high school careers in London, the Browns transferred to Bradenton, Fla., helping St. Stephen's Episcopal School win consecutive Sunshine State Athletic Conference titles. After receiving upwards of 25 NCAA scholarship offers, Chase Brown settled upon Western Michigan because of its aviation program.

"Unfortunately the career path wasn't there for me," he said. "As far as football and people there, I loved everybody there, they supported but it didn't feel right so I put my name in the transfer portal.

"When I got the Illinois offer, I knew I wanted to come here because I had an opportunity to play with my brother. When I finally enrolled here I just felt like I was at home.

"We're so close, he's my best friend and I don't even have to think twice about that. Probably the first couple of months away, we called each other maybe every night but as we got used to being away it was once a week. As far as our connection going down a bit? No, that didn't really happen."

There's very little physically that distinguishes the two, who both wear their hair in a bun. Sydney Brown is slightly bigger but Chase Brown is the older of the two, by about two minutes. In full gear, the only way to tell them apart on the field is by their numbers - Chase Brown wears No. 2 while Sydney Brown dons No. 30.

Early in their football careers, Sydney Brown played running back while Chase Brown lined up along the defensive line. Predictably, there's no doubt in Sydney Brown's mind about who's the bigger offensive threat.

"Me, obviously," he said, tongue firmly in cheek. "No, Chase is doing a great job right now.

"It's been real exciting to see him go out on Saturday and show off his talent on the field and show everybody what I know he can do."

So does that mean Chase Brown was a better defensive player?

"No," Sydney Brown quipped with a broad smile. "If you want a 200-pound defensive end, I mean, take him."

While the two brothers are best friends and roommates, a sibling rivalry exists.

"We always want to outperform the other," Chase Brown said. "It could be a look, it would be words . . . sometimes it gets chippy but that's just the competitive nature of the sport and us.

"A prime example is during camp when we have an opportunity to hit each other. We'd make contact and I'll be like, 'Damn, he actually did give me a good hit.' But we move on and go from there."

During games, the 20-year-old brothers pay attention to what the other is doing on the field and feed off each one another's accomplishments.

"If Chase scores a touchdown, I'm going to try to score a touchdown on defence or make a big play to help the team," Sydney Brown said. "It's cool having somebody just like you on the other side of the ball making plays and helping his team win.

"Of course, we push each other. It's just the twin rivalry that we've had with each other since we were kids. It's great to have someone like that to push you in practice each week."

Chase Brown's enthusiasm got the best of him last year when he watched his brother record a pick-six versus Michigan State.

"I flipped our coffee table because it was so unexpected," he said. "I couldn't have been happier for him.

"Watching that made me want to do more when my opportunity came. He's done so much for this program and I want to match that."

With no tackle football in Canada — both the CFL and U Sports cancelled their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the country's focus has shifted to Canadians excelling south of the border. And the Browns are part of a long list of Canucks who've made significant contributions to their collegiate programs.

But only Sydney Brown actively monitors and follows the accomplishments of Canadians in the NCAA ranks.

"I'm always looking, I love to see guys playing real well each week.," he said. "We have guys all over the country right now who're playing elite roles.

"I'm always keeping tabs and seeing how they're doing each week as they might be doing the same with others. It's always cool to see a brother from up north playing well."

Chase Brown is more philosophical about it.

"I'd say more opportunities are being given to Canadians because of guys making the most of the opportunity," he said. "As far as my performances and being part of the Canadian group that's been able to do well, it really hasn't sunk in yet.

"I'm still focused on this season and getting wins for the program. Maybe when the season is over I'll be able to reflect a little bit more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press