KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A change in environment could be intimidating during the initial adjustment process, especially for an NFL job carrying pressure for a roster spot.
But having a familiar face around on a daily basis certainly helps for new Chiefs DeMarcus and David Van Dyke, both of whom happen to be first cousins.
The Chiefs signed DeMarcus, 25, to a reserve/future contract on Jan. 11 and David, 23, as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee State on May 12.
Making the Van Dyke situation even more unique is both play cornerback, meaning they’ll battle each other in an already crowded situation considering the Chiefs currently have 10 at the position ahead of training camp.
“I think it’s a blessing to just be on the same team with my first cousin,” said David, a converted college free safety who measures 6-0, 185 pounds. “If I go to any team, I’m going to have to compete for a spot.”
The elder Van Dyke, who entered the league out of the University of Miami as a third-round draft pick (81st overall) of the Oakland Raiders in 2011, agreed.
“If he needs anything I’m going to help him,” said DeMarcus, who measures 6-1, 187 pounds and spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I’m going to help any teammate. If they need help, I’m going to help when I can. It’s a competition. He wants to make the team; I want to make the team. So may the best man win.”
There are historical examples of brother combinations in professional football – a total of 366, according to a PDF received from the Pro Football Hall of Fame – but it’s not often blood relatives are on the same team at the same time, much less the same position.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame offers 67 documented instances (18 percent) where brothers played on the same team. For examples, the past three decades include linebackers Kaelin and Kevin Burnett with the Oakland Raiders (2013); punter Matt and center Dan Turk with the Washington Redskins (1997); and offensive lineman Richard and defensive lineman Gary Baldinger with the Chiefs during the late 1980s, among others.
Archives on first cousins are another matter, as the NFL and NFLPA don’t maintain records of that occurrence, according to emails from both organizations in response to an inquiry.
Despite growing up in Miami, DeMarcus and David Van Dyke, whose fathers are brothers, didn’t play organized football together in high school and college.
DeMarcus, who possesses 4.28 40-yard dash speed, said he encouraged the Miami Hurricanes to recruit his cousin before a coaching change occurred. David, who clocked a 4.46 40-yard dash time at his Pro Day, went on to star at Tennessee State where he recorded seven career interceptions, including four in his senior season.
Still, they kept the dream alive of being together in the NFL.
“We actually talked about it at our grandmother’s gravesite the day before the draft,” DeMarcus said. “Man, it would be awesome if we’re both on the same team after the draft. It’s a blessing. Two first cousins, same last name and everything on the same team in the NFL.”
DeMarcus’ mother, Miranda Lovett, said in a telephone interview her son and nephew were very close to their grandmother, Bobbie Rae Van Dyke, who passed away in March 2012.
“She was just so proud of her two grandsons,” Lovett said. “When David got picked up by Kansas City, all I could think about was their grandmother. She would be so proud because she had just spoken on it three months before she died. She was the best.”
Lovett adds the Van Dyke family is overjoyed the cornerbacks have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot with the Chiefs.
“Everybody is just so excited for them,” she said. “We want them to do well and make the team because it’s just so unreal that two first cousins are on the same team. I’m just praying that both of them do well and make the team.”
Meanwhile, there’s a downside to family members being on the same team, and a factor some teammates likely wouldn’t understand.
Richard Baldinger said in a telephone interview the best thing about having his brother in the locker room was he had somebody to talk to about anything not related to football during the down time.
Nevertheless, the former offensive lineman recalled what it was like to watch the Chiefs release his brother and the raw emotions that followed.
“It’s a painful thing,” Baldinger said. “I remember the most with Gary when he got released my brother being upset, wasn’t sure what was going to happen. What can you say to somebody? No matter what words you try to use to express sorrow, it just doesn’t come off that way.”
When asked what advice he would offer the Van Dyke cousins, Baldinger said the important thing for them to keep in mind is don’t add pressure to the underlying goal of making the roster regardless what happens.
“I would tell them it’s all business,” Baldinger said. “Keep it that way and that’s the way to look at it. If the cards fall our way, we’re both here. Fantastic. If one goes and one stays, that’s the way it is.”
In a perfect world, the Chiefs eventually keep both players.
However, the first cousins are fully aware a possible scenario exists with one leaving and the other staying as they look to make an impression with the coaching staff.
Regardless the outcome, the bond between the two will remain.
“I’m very proud,” DeMarcus Van Dyke said of his cousin. “From high school all the way to college and now the NFL, he mapped this out from Day One.
“He said I’m going to college, I’m going to the NFL, I’m going to work hard. His dream came true. He’s a good kid. He stayed out of trouble in the heart of Miami. It’s tough down there. He persevered through everything. I’m very proud of him. I tell him that every time I talk to him.”
David Van Dyke said he’s been listening closely to DeMarcus and will apply the information with the view of sticking with the Chiefs.
“He’s been giving me advice since he first got into the NFL,” David said. “Some of the stuff I already knew because of him. I asked him questions and he gave me good advice to stay humble, listen to the coaches and just work on technique, work hard. I get all that advice from him. Basically, he’s the reason. He pushed me.”
But would the younger cousin still be welcomed for Thanksgiving dinner if he beats out the older cousin?
“No,” DeMarcus emphatically said before he and David burst into laughter.
“We’ll probably joke about it,” DeMarcus said with a warm smile. “We’ll stay in contact. We went to the same high school together, but didn’t play on the same team because he transferred out. This is the first time playing together.”