In need of someone to step up to a leadership role after losing so many seniors from last year, the Nkemdiche brothers Denzel, left, and Robert have done so quite nicely. In addition to terrorizing opposing offenses, they’ve also both contributed to the Rams’ running game in recent weeks and have helped pave the way for Grayson’s run to the Class AAAAA semifinals.
LOGANVILLE — To anyone who doesn’t know the Nkemdiche brothers, being able to tell which of the two Grayson football players is which can be a bit of a challenge.
They aren’t twins — they are actually 18 months apart — and while they do share a fairly strong family resemblance, it can be confusing trying to tell senior Denzel Nkemdiche from sophomore Robert Nkemdiche until one figures out a simple hint.
The Nkemdiche Files
Who: Denzel Nkemdiche
Favorite TV show: “SportsCenter”
Favorite sports teams: Grayson (high school) and Auburn (college)
Dream job: NFL player
What’s your most fond memory of playing backyard football?: “Finally tackling this big kid who I’d never been able to tackle before when I was 13.”
• Three-year letter winner with the Rams
• Recorded 39 combined tackles and assists with two sacks in 11 games as a junior last season
• Currently second on the team with 91 tackles, tied for third with two interceptions, fourth with nine tackles for losses and fifth with five sacks in 13 games this season
• Already holds scholarship offers from Louisiana Tech, Marshall, South Carolina, South Alabama, Illinois State and Eastern Michigan, plus interest from Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech and others
Who: Robert Nkemdiche
Favorite TV show: “Criminal Minds”
Favorite sports team: Grayson
Dream job: NFL player
What’s your most fond memory of playing backyard football?: “Getting my first interception while covering this tall kid when I was 8 years old.”
• Saw action in five games for the Rams as a freshman last season
• Currently leads the team, and is second in Gwinnett County, with 15 sacks
• Is tied for the Grayson team lead with 15 tackles for losses
• Also stands sixth on the team with 53 combined tackles and assists
The big brother in age is actually the little brother in size.
“When I was in eighth grade and he was in sixth, he started growing,” Denzel Nkemdiche recalled. “I was just amazed and shocked looking at my little brother and he’s become a man.”
Both Nkemdiche brothers have been playing like men among boys this season in helping Grayson (10-3) to the Class AAAAA state semifinals, where it will welcome Colquitt County to Grayson Community Stadium today.
And both have been major catalysts on a Grayson defense that ranks second to Buford among all Gwinnett County schools in scoring defense at 10.2 points per game and trails only the Wolves and GAC in total defense at 196.3 yards per game.
And both 5-foot-11, 200-pound linebacker Denzel and 6-5, 260-pound defensive end Robert have stepped up to the challenge of becoming defensive leaders both on the field and in the locker room.
It’s a role the Rams (10-3) needed to have filled with the loss of a decorated senior class that included four major Division I college signees from last season.
“(Denzel) is a natural leader,” Rams coach Mickey Conn said. “When he’s committed to something, he’ll get people to follow him. And (Robert) is really talented.
“They’re both physically talented, and the kids believe in them.”
The leadership role is one both Nkemdiches have been ready to fill from the start, and one Denzel, in particular, has been waiting to assume for the last two seasons.
But with such veterans as Shawn Green (now at Georgia Tech), Joseph Champaign (Air Force), Terry Williams (East Carolina) and Kori Gaines (Brigham Young) in the grade ahead of him already entrenched as leaders, he know he would have to bide his time.
“I wanted to do it last year,” said Denzel, who contributed 39 combined tackles and assists and two sacks as a junior in 2009. “But (the seniors) were doing such a good job leading us all, so I sat back and let them lead, and I followed the right way.
“This year, I feel I needed to be a leader because I was one of the returning starters on defense. We just needed a leader in this class.”
Denzel has filled that role nicely, as his 91 tackles — second on the team only to fellow senior linebacker Michael Peek’s 103 — nine tackles for losses (fourth on the team), two interceptions (tied for third) and five sacks (fifth) attest.
And while his leadership as been as much vocal as it has by example as a senior this season, younger brother Robert has taken a similar path to leadership as that of Denzel — making sure it starts with leadership by deed before it comes by word.
Though he saw action in five games as a freshman last season, Robert burst upon the scene during Grayson’s televised preseason scrimmage loss to North Gwinnett, which ranked as high as No. 2 in the state before the Rams avenged the loss in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs two weeks ago.
“I learned a lot playing behind Shawn Green, Joe Champaign and Anthony Shakir last year,” Robert said. “I’m a lot more confident now. Now I know how to play the position a lot more.”
Robert has done his part as perhaps the Rams’ biggest impact player on defense.
Of his 53 total tackles, 15 have been sacks, good enough for the team lead and leaving him just 21⁄2 behind Brookwood’s Cameron Lynch for the county lead. He also is tied with Peek for the team lead with 15 tackles for losses.
And it hasn’t been only on defense that both Nkemdiches have contributed to the Grayson cause.
As the season progressed, both brothers have been inserted to the Rams’ committee of running backs, especially when they need a tough, physical runner in short-yardage situations — a role similar to what powerful linebacker Williams filled last season.
Both have responded well, with Denzel running for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries and Robert posting 34 yards and a score on 10 carries.
“We moved Denzel to offense, and he’s added emotion and energy and a will to win,” Conn said. “He had a touchdown run against North Forsyth in which ... he just threw (defenders) off. From that point, the energy of our team has gone up.
“Robert’s also running the ball really well. He’s a force to be reckoned with at 260 pounds.”
But it is on defense where both Nkemdiche brothers have had the biggest impact, and it is on that side of the ball in which college programs have taken notice of both.
While Robert has already garnered attention from several major programs as a sophomore, Denzel already has several scholarship offers, including Louisiana Tech, Marshall, South Carolina and South Alabama, and has interest from other big programs like Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
But for now, the focus for both Nkemdiches is on helping the Rams get to their ultimate goal, starting with tonight’s game against Colquitt County.
It is a goal Robert says he and his teammates have had in mind long before the season even started.
“My confidence really started in the offseason workouts,” Robert said. “I said, ‘I’m going to be a leader on this team. Me and my brother are going to take this team on our backs and ... we’re going to win a state championship this year.’”