Mychal and Eric Kendricks’ path to becoming a standout, lightning-fast duo of NFL linebackers began at a performing arts school. This weekend, Mychal, 27, will be in Philadelphia, trying to get the Eagles to the NFC championship game. Eric, 25 will be in Minnesota, trying to get the Vikings there, too.
And wouldn’t that be something — brother vs. brother for a shot at the Super Bowl.
“It’s kind of a dilemma this year with the both of them in the playoffs, and my daughter is pregnant and due anytime with our first grandchild,” Yvonne Thagon, a proud mother, tells Yahoo Sports. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Her “dilemma” could be worse.
It wasn’t so long ago Yvonne was working at a snack bar — not sitting in the stands — near the local football field in Fresno, California, earning a little extra money while watching her sons play ball. Or that Marvin Kendricks, the boys’ father, was struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine. Or the time a gang broke into the Hoover High School locker room and wrote hate notes on a board about Mychal.
“But we were in a gang ourself with our family,” Marvin says. “And they didn’t need to join a gang because football is such a team sport.”
Football was actually never on the boys’ radar growing up. “The focus wasn’t on sports at all,” says Yvonne. “My focus was getting them to college.”
It wasn’t until Mychal was an eighth grader — Eric a sixth-grader — that he approached his mom about playing. While he was less than thrilled to surrender his dance group — one that included hip-hip, tap and jazz — as well as a travel soccer team, he was willing to make the sacrifice, only if mom signed off.
“I sucked it up and let them play,” Yvonne says. “I just think they had a heart for it.”
It didn’t take long for both boys to take to the game, and it wasn’t long after that for Marvin, who played running back at UCLA under Dick Vermeil, to realize his kids were especially gifted.
“They were able to do things that most other kids couldn’t do,” he says. “But when they got to college, the big struggle was finding out there are a lot of great athletes. They were just average for a moment. We had a long conversation about taking it to the next level, and they both worked very hard to do that. They worked hard in school, too.”
Mychal feels his strong work ethic and discipline come from his mom, who was tasked with raising the children after she and Marvin split up.
“Raising four kids by herself, working double shifts. She made sure something good would happen,” he says. “She made us wake up at 5:30 to go to ‘zero’ period so we could work out before school and save money on breakfast. I hated it, but now I really think about those moments. Learning how to wake up, be on time and put in the work when everyone else was asleep. She taught us that.”
Mychal was always a rough kid, so much so Marvin says they almost had to have permanent teeth put in when Mychal was only 6 because he had them knocked out so much. Eric was the opposite. He was always more relaxed, cerebral enough to watch, learn and gain insight from his older brother.
Part of the boys’ childhood included Marvin overcoming a drug addiction. Marvin, who got clean when Mychal hit his teenage years, greatly appreciates that his sons never once wavered in their support.
“They really did need me and I needed them as well,” he says. “They knew their dad was struggling, but they were always there for me. It meant the world.”
But while both brothers were standouts in high school, neither received an onslaught of offers to play in college. Mychal wound up at Cal-Berkeley, where as a senior he earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Eric wound up at Marvin’s alma mater, UCLA, where he became a dominant three-year starter and, during his final collegiate game, broke the school’s all-time record with 476 tackles. During his senior season, Eric won both the Butkus Award — given to the nation’s top linebacker — and the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which recognizes personal character and athletic excellence.
“They’ve always challenged each other,” Marvin says. “But whatever Mychal does, Eric does it better. They really like to help each other and share insight. They used to go toe-to-toe playing basketball, pushing each other really hard. But it was all love.”
Says Eric: “I knew I wanted to go to college and the NFL, but I never really knew I could do it until my brother starting getting college attention. It really gave me confidence and the reassurance that this can really happen. Everything he did, I was naturally better at because I was learning from him. And I set my goals really high.”
“I feel I’ve been overlooked my whole career,” he adds. “I feel like people always have the tendency to underestimate my abilities. I just want to prove them wrong. … I don’t take it for granted at all.”
As good as he knew Eric was, however, Mychal often questioned his own ability. “I always told myself I was going to be here and I knew I’d be here,” he says. “But I didn’t understand how good I was.”
The Eagles selected Mychal with the 46th pick in the 2012 draft. Naturally, Eric was taken with the 45th pick in the 2015 draft by the Vikings.
“As an older brother, you want your younger brother to be equally successful, if not more successful than you,” says Mychal, who is an avid meditator, gifted rapper and aspiring actor. “Eric’s a pretty smart guy and he’s always been willing to listen. Schematics, tendencies — certain things like that, he’s wide open to learning. … I knew he was going to be a monster. He’s a freaking beast. I think he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations and probably met his own.”
Playing on defenses that are likely going to be catalysts if their respective teams are to advance in the postseason, Mychal is the Eagles’ second-leading tackler, while Eric ranks 15th in the league in total tackles. Both have six passes defensed, a stellar number for the linebacker position.
Saturday, the Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons. Sunday, the Vikings face the New Orleans Saints. By Monday, the Kendricks brothers could be preparing to face each other for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
“As a parent,” Yvonne says, “it’s a humbling moment. I am very proud of them.”
And if it happens, Marvin has a simple solution for whom to root: “Defense.”
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.