Big brother had had enough. Little brother had run his mouth too much. It was time to strap on the football pads and teach a lesson.
Graham Pocic vs. Ethan Pocic, in the family yard.
“I don’t even think he put his pads on,” Ethan said with a laugh. “But I put my pads on. I did a backflip, he hit me so hard.”
At the time, Graham, the older brother, was a Division I offensive tackle prospect at Lemont High School in the southwest suburbs, bound for Illinois.
Ethan was a seventh-grader, and his time was coming. A life spent learning from — and competing with — Graham would result in Ethan becoming one of the most sought-after college prospects from the area in recent memory. From Alabama to Ohio State to LSU to Notre Dame to Oklahoma and so on, the national powerhouses wanted him.
Now he’s arguably the best center in the NFL draft.
“I couldn’t be any prouder,” said Graham, who had a stint with the Bears at training camp in 2014. “It’s something we’ve talked to each other about our whole lives, for him to have that dream be right in front of his face.”
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Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen had to tell his star player no — there was absolutely no way Ethan Pocic would be allowed to be part of the kickoff unit, despite volunteering for it.
Michaelsen’s argument was simple.
“Six-foot-six, 300 pounds running down the field, they’re not going to take you on,” he said. “They’re going to cut you even though it’s illegal. We’re going to keep you off of that.”
Michaelsen said he remembers Ethan as a special athlete who first wanted to be a linebacker. But Ethan was meant to follow in the big footsteps of his brother. The Pocic football genes span generations, too. Their mother’s father played football at Purdue, their father’s father at Illinois.
Ethan signed with LSU with the goal of competing for a national championship. He started as a sophomore in 2014 — nine games at guard and three at center — eventually becoming a first-team All-America center last year.
It helped to have a big brother around to offer advice. While in high school, Ethan would send Graham his game film and highlights, and Graham would provide feedback from Illinois. When Ethan moved on to LSU, their discussions evolved into analyzing the tendencies of offensive coordinators they’d faced.
“Sometimes with little brothers, they want to be better than the older brother no matter what,” said Michaelsen, who coached both Pocics and is now Lemont’s principal. “They think they’re going to show them and shut them up. It wasn’t that type of relationship, in my opinion.”
Under Michaelsen, the Pocics were part of a program that was one of the area’s best for nearly a decade. Ethan has since become a big brother in his own right for Lemont players, visiting the school just last week.
“He would take the time to work with the younger kids and help them to develop their skills,” Michaelsen said. “That was a real good thing for our program.”
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It was summertime at LSU, and NCAA rules limited how much time the Tigers’ coaches could spend with players. Some of the younger offensive linemen were struggling to show up on time. Their seriousness and approach had to be addressed.
Enter Ethan Pocic.
“Finally, one day he had enough,” LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “I’ll just say he got those guys to where they needed to be in short order. He really carried a kind of respect with the group that when he barked, they listened. He’s the guy who will carry on that role at the next level, as well.”
Ethan was asked to be LSU’s full-time center his junior season. Leadership responsibilities, of course, came with it: He’s the first person to touch the ball on every play. Order and effort start with him, he says.
“Ethan is the kind of kid who honestly says, ‘Coach, you can put me wherever you want me and I’ll play,’ Grimes said. “A lot of kids say that because they know it’s the right thing to say, but they don’t really mean it. Ethan really means it. He’s a guy who wants to show up with his hard hat and lunch pail every day and go to work. He doesn’t necessarily need any fanfare. He doesn’t need anyone to pat him on the rear end and tell him what a great job he’s doing.”
It’s always been that way, starting at home.
“We would always find ways to stay entertained and compete with each other,” Graham said.
The family entertainment will include Sundays soon enough.
“[Ethan] will play for a long time in the NFL,” Grimes said. “Whether it’s the Bears, the Packers, Giants, 49ers or whoever takes him, they’re going to be real glad they have him.”
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