As the youngest member of a four-sibling family filled with college athletes, Luke Joeckel cannot recall a day in his life that did not include some competitive endeavor.
Most of them involve his twin brother Matt, who is two minutes older and has been Luke’s teammate the past three football seasons at Texas A&M. The brothers live together in a house near the A&M campus where Luke, the 2012 Outland Trophy winner from Arlington High School, is preparing for this week’s NFL Draft and could become the first offensive lineman taken with the top overall pick since 2008.
Matt recently completed spring drills as the backup quarterback to Johnny Manziel, the Aggies’ returning Heisman Trophy winner. But to Luke (6-foot-6, 310 pounds), a left tackle in the mix to be Kansas City’s first pick when the NFL Draft begins Thursday in New York, his twin brother represents much more than that.
Through the years, Matt Joeckel (6-4, 234) has been a benchmark for Luke’s athletic development and, on occasion, an ally when older siblings Sarah or David — former college athletes at TCU and DePauw — turned their wrath upon their younger brothers in their childhood years.
“Competing with my twin brother every single day growing up, probably fighting multiple times a day every day, helped me get to where I am at now,” Luke said. “We still fight all of the time. I think it still makes me a better football player every day.”
Matt said: “Me and Luke, we’re one-on-one. We’ve always competed in everything. But if anybody else messes with one of us, you’ve got to deal with both of us. That’s the way it’s always been.”
The twins’ tight bond, founded on perpetual efforts in one-upmanship, could soon be put to the ultimate test in terms of bragging rights.
Luke, who is bypassing his senior season, could become the first A&M player taken with the top overall pick in any NFL Draft. But Matt, as a returnee from an 11-2 team with lofty goals for 2013, could be the one who caps his college career by earning a national championship ring.
If both brothers reach their lofty goals in 2013, which one earns bragging rights?
“I would probably say him,” Matt said. “He could just show me the bank account. And that’s something I really can’t argue with.”
“I’m always a team guy. So I’d actually go with the national championship,” he said. “But I decided to take the next step and jump on that opportunity. So I can’t look back now. If they did win it next year, I’d be just as happy as they are.”
But the focus this week will be on Luke, who will be in New York for Thursday’s opening night of the draft. He has met individually with each of the teams holding the top four picks — Kansas City, Jacksonville, Oakland and Philadelphia — and is not expected to fall below that point, based on multiple mock drafts.
Asked about being taken No. 1 overall by the Chiefs, Luke said: “It would be really cool, a dream come true.”
He is expected to be joined by a 22-member contingent of friends and family members, including A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Another group of supporters will gather Thursday night at Shady Valley Country Club, where the Joeckels are members, for a draft-watching party that includes a silent auction to benefit the Arlington High School football program.
Family of linemen
Based on bloodlines, it is not surprising that Luke distinguished himself as a college athlete. And as an offensive lineman.
His father, Dave, was a four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Texas Tech (1979-82). Older brother David played offensive line at DePauw, a Division III school in Greencastle, Ind. And his grandfather, Reece Washington, played tight end for Texas Tech.
Luke said the Joeckels are “an offensive line family,” although Matt broke the mold by playing quarterback. They’re also an athletic family, with Sarah earning All-Mountain West Conference honors during her volleyball career at TCU (2008-11). Reecanne Joeckel, the children’s mother and Dave’s wife, played basketball at Arlington High School, where Dave was a standout offensive tackle before earning a scholarship at Tech.
Dave, a Fort Worth trial lawyer, helped coach all of his children in youth sports. Included were stints in football (nine years), volleyball (three years), soccer (four years) and baseball (two years). He recalled “a lot of competitive basketball games in the driveway,” when the parents worked to mix and match teams as evenly as possible depending on the participants.
All along, he envisioned the possibility of raising children who could become college athletes. But having one of them emerge as the potential top overall pick in the NFL Draft, which would be a first for any high school player from Tarrant County, has triggered some reality checks.
“The whole family, we’ve had to pinch ourselves sometimes to think of our son or our brother being at this level. It blows all of our minds,” Dave said. “I’m proud of him and it couldn’t be happening to a better kid. Luke is a humble kid that avoids, rather than seeks, attention.”
Asked about the possibility of hearing his twin brother’s name announced as the No. 1 pick by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Matt said: “It would be the happiest moment of my life, because it’s something I feel like I share with him. We definitely have always had the football connection and I’m definitely his biggest fan. That would be just amazing.”
Through the years, of course, the twins have had multiple connections, on and off the athletic fields. Family members recall the brothers being able to communicate with one another through their own language, which no one else understood, before they learned to talk. As members of different kindergarten classes, each participated — independent of one another’s knowledge — in a contest to guess the number of jelly beans in a large glass container. There were hundreds of jelly beans.
“They didn’t get the number right. But they both guessed the same number,” Dave said.
Although the twins were aware of their older siblings’ athletic accomplishments — Sarah was two years ahead of them in school, David had four grades of separation — and attended many of their games, both Matt and Luke always viewed each other as their personal measuring sticks for athletics, academics … you name it.
“Even eating,” Matt said. “It’s always been extremely competitive. It’s definitely helped us out a lot. It’s put a lot of pressure on us. But our whole family just wants what’s best for each of us.”
At one point, each brother played quarterback on different seventh-grade teams at Bailey Junior High. But only briefly. Luke requested a move back to the offensive line, where he could be more physical with opponents.
Eventually, Luke added weight and protected Matt’s blind side for two seasons as the left tackle at Arlington before becoming a three-year starter at A&M. Yet somehow, despite all the impromptu fights, wrestling matches and contentious one-on-one basketball games in the driveway, Dave Joeckel said the twins escaped their childhood years with no emergency room visits and no broken bones.
“We made it a rule to avoid hitting each other in the face. That helped,” Dave Joeckel said. “We’d break it up if it ever got that far.”
The first ER trip occurred when the twins were sophomores in high school. Ironically, that Friday night revealed much about lessons Luke learned from his father, who always stressed the need to separate temporary pain from actual injury for football players. It also drove home the importance of sharing the spotlight in a family filled with achievers.
During the Colts’ homecoming game, Luke got hurt but recalled his father’s admonition about overreacting to injuries. So he walked off the field. On a broken leg.
“That says something about his toughness,” Dave said. “He walked off the field on his broken leg. That same night, we knew Sarah was going to be named the homecoming queen. I made him stay for that before I took him to the hospital, to watch Sarah be the homecoming queen.”
Such is the price of being a member of the Joeckel family, in Luke’s estimation.
“Growing up with my dad, he’s intense about sports,” he said. “He’s very competitive. He’s pushed me to my limits. I am just lucky to have great parents, a great family that’s supporting me.”
That doesn’t mean the twins avoided occasional hazing from their older siblings. Matt said their willingness to stick up for one another minimized the conflicts. But he recalled his older brother, David, making good on a vow to extract payback if either twin ever grew taller than his 6-foot-3 frame.
“He always said that once me and Luke passed him in height, he was going to punch us in the face,” Matt said. “At the time, he was in college and we were still in high school. When he’d come back, he’d always check. He punched Luke in the face, but all I got was just a push in the pool. It definitely did happen. That was a big deal.”
Luke shrugged off the incident.
“We are a very competitive family and pretty physical with each other,” said Luke, who has translated that skill to his impending career in impressive fashion.
Top of the draft class?
A consensus All-American last season, Joeckel is projected in multiple mock drafts as the Chiefs’ probable selection with Thursday’s top overall pick.
“Joeckel is what he is. He’s a pro’s pro already,” said Aaron Glenn, a scout for the New York Jets. “You just don’t find them better than that.”
Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who met Joeckel at A&M’s Pro Day session, indicated that Joeckel passes more than the eye test when conferring with NFL executives.
“Not only is he a good football player, but he’s an impressive young man,” Allen said. “When you look at him, that’s the thing you look at that says, ‘This guy is going to make it in the National Football League.’”
But in a draft light on skill-position talent and heavy on top-notch offensive tackles, there are enough dissenting opinions to add intrigue to Thursday’s proceedings.
Dane Brugler, draft analyst for CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, envisions the Chiefs taking Eric Fisher (6-8, 305), an offensive tackle from Central Michigan, with the No. 1 pick. Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network, said three offensive tackles — Fisher, Joeckel and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson (6-6, 296) — all project as top-10 talents.
“Lane Johnson probably has the highest ceiling of all three of them,” Maycok said. “I think Fisher is as good a player as Joeckel. So, from Kansas City’s perspective… I think you’ve got to grind the hell out of those three tackles [in individual workouts and interviews]. They’ve got to get a feel for the kid as much as the player.”
Mayock suggested that is an area where Joeckel should shine. He is, after all, the only underclassmen in this draft who wrote a letter to the team’s fan base after announcing that he would be leaving school early. In it, Joeckel thanked A&M fans for their support and wrote that skipping his senior season marked “the toughest thing I have ever done,” but he needed to seize this opportunity while his draft stock was high.
Asked why he wrote the letter, Luke said: “I thought they deserved it…. I needed some kind of closure. I’m glad I did that.”
In describing his best attributes as a player, he cited tenacity learned from his father, instilled in peewee football.
“I’m a guy who plays to the whistle every single play. I can be a nice guy off the field. But when I get on the field, I try to be nasty, just a mean dude,” he said.
Sometimes, the intensity can carry over to teammates. Even to his brother. Luke recalled a game during his junior season at Arlington when Matt got sacked by a defender he blocked.
“I was pancaking this guy. And Matt bounces out of the pocket,” Luke said. “I pancake the guy right into Matt’s legs. I get up and instead of him yelling at me, I started yelling at him, saying, ‘You gave me a sack. You’ve got to be a better athlete than that.’ He never chewed me out for giving up sacks. I chewed him out once for making me give up a sack. That’s kind of how our relationship is.”
On or off the field, Matt said he always knows his brother has his back in difficult situations. Even the ones he creates for himself.
“I’m a bigger talker than Luke,” Matt said. “I’ve always been the one that starts it… and I let him finish it. He’s obviously the bigger guy. That’s just right. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
If all goes right for the Joeckels on Thursday night, Luke will become the first offensive lineman to hear his name announced as the NFL’s top overall pick since Miami opened the 2008 draft by selecting left tackle Jake Long. For a guy driven by one-upmanship, that would be a fitting way to begin an NFL career.