Three pairs of local siblings are playing D1 college football together this fall.
Lester and Lance Axson have been playing football together since they were in Pop Warner.
That continued through their days at Foundation Academy, where the two defensive backs wreaked havoc upon opposing offenses for head coach Brad Lord’s program.
During their varsity careers, both Axson brothers emerged as Division I prospects. Still, the chance they would play together — as Division I college football players — seemed slim at best.
And yet, on Saturdays this fall, that is exactly what the Axson brothers are doing.
“We’ve been playing side-by-side since Pop Warner. Just to keep it going at the college level, it surprises me — and I’m thankful.”
Lester, a redshirt freshman, and Lance, a true freshman, are suiting up for the Campbell University Camels — a Division I FCS program competing in the Big South Conference.
The Camels are 5-1 so far this fall, and both brothers have appeared in each of the team’s six games, with 13 tackles between them. They have been on the field at the same time, recalling those memories of youth football.
“I think about it every day — it’s crazy,” Lester Axson said. “We’ve been playing side-by-side since Pop Warner. Just to keep it going at the college level, it surprises me — and I’m thankful.”
What’s even more surprising than the Axson brothers finding their way to Campbell’s North Carolina campus together is that they’re not the only local brothers to have done so at the Division I level. In fact, James and Josh Green — graduates of Olympia High — are playing together at Tennessee State University, and Denzel and Darius Irvin — graduates of Foundation Academy — are together at UNC-Charlotte.
Oh, and one more wrinkle — for good measure — is that all six student-athletes play defense.
For each pair of brothers, the older was recruited to their current programs first. In all cases, when the same school began to show interest in the younger sibling, it quickly became a dream situation.
“It kind of did move to (Tennessee State) top of the list (in recruiting), because I already had a good relationship with the staff,” Josh Green, a true freshman defensive back, said.
For James Green, a sophomore linebacker for the Tigers, having his younger brother join him has created an added air of accountability for the former Titans — extending both ways.
“A lot of people don’t understand, but having your sibling is great, because he’s able to keep me doing the things I need to do,” James Green said.
It is a sentiment Josh Green shares.
“Everybody goes through adversity when they get to college,” said Josh Green, who arrived at the Tennessee campus in June.
The Green brothers have thrived, with James Green recording 14 tackles so far this season, and Josh Green working his way up the depth chart. In Charlotte, Denzel Irvin, a redshirt senior defensive back, has 24 total tackles, and Darius Irvin, a redshirt junior linebacker, has four.
Siblings can hold each other accountable — and also recreate a home-like feeling hundreds of miles from greater Orlando.
“It makes it feel like home,” Lance Axson said. “I’m not up here by myself.”
For the younger siblings, in particular, having someone who has gone through all the adversity of the first few months of college — when the student-athletes are adjusting to the independence of a college schedule, as well as the increased speed and physicality of the college game — can be a benefit.
“(Lester), I got up here, said that I need to be on top of my time management and my schoolwork,” Lance Axson said. “When it comes to football, he said to stay in the books, know my plays and watch a lot of film.”
For siblings who otherwise would keep up with their brothers’ careers via social media and other digital avenues, being in the same program makes it much easier.
“He (Josh) is doing great — he’s doing what I expected him to do,” James Green said.
It’s also a plus for the parents of each pair of brothers. Instead of having to decide which game to watch — either in person or on television — each weekend, the decision is made for them.
“They only have to worry about which jersey they wear,” Lance Axson said.