Red in the face, Elijah Cesareo can’t stop laughing.
Sitting in the Lovington football film room before practice, the senior lineman starts shaking his head and shading his eyes with his hand. He can’t control himself. And with Elijah’s contagious smile beaming ear to ear, junior Evan Cesareo – his younger brother – starts laughing too when the siblings look at each other.
Elijah and Evan are not only brothers, but teammates on the Wildcats football team. They have been for two years now, yet were on the same team for many seasons before high school. They’ve experienced probably thousands of football moments together over the years, many of them even in this film room. But this time, it’s just the three of us and they’re laughing after recounting their favorite moment together in their careers.
“Last year, during the Santa Teresa game, which was the only game we won,” Elijah said, from his perspective. “He was talking with this other player from their team and they were going at it just talking. They started pushing each other and I saw it, so I ran. I pushed someone down and everybody just starting fighting on their sideline.”
Now, Elijah is laughing so much after the story that it interrupts my next question. I ask, “Am I missing something here?” But Elijah looks again at his brother and replies light-heartedly, “Nah, he’s just stupid.”
In a way, the mix of the story and this interaction resembles part of the relationship between the two of them.
As the older sibling, Elijah says he’s always going to be protective of Evan. Last year, when Evan was starting quarterback for Lovington, Elijah was a consistent starter on the offensive line. He felt motivated to block better and move quicker, simply because he didn’t want Evan to take a big hit. Feeling so protective of Evan, that fueled the kind of reaction he had last year against Santa Teresa.
Of course, Elijah gave his younger brother grief for getting into that situation, and has been in his ear for many other incidents. That includes when Evan cramps up, and Elijah thinks he’s faking it. Chirping and arguing with each other every now and then is just what a healthy relationship between brothers is like, especially since they get over it quickly and move on.
Grief or no grief, Elijah will always run to his younger brother’s aid. That’s one of Evan’s favorite parts of the two playing together, and certainly feels blessed to have him on his team.
“It feels good knowing he has my back and I have his,” he said. “Not a lot of people have brothers a year older than them, or two years. This just a blessing to have him just a year older than me so we can be playing on the same team.”
Ever since they were five years old, Evan and Elijah have played on the same team.
It started as flag football in Hobbs, and eventually turned into tackle football. There was a brief, three-year gap in middle school and early high school where they weren’t teammates, but that ended when Evan made the varsity team last year.
Playing the sport together has helped them grow their relationship as brothers, and both of them describe their relationship as “strong.” Football has been part of the lifeblood between them, and both credited the sport as being the factor that has made them closer to each other than perhaps any of their other three siblings.
So, that’s why when the topic of them playing their last season together came up, they both kind of lowered their heads and looked down at the table. But before we get into that, it’s worth mentioning how much the two have grown since they were youngsters in flag football.
Evan has emerged as a standout skill player for the Wildcats since his arrival on the varsity team. He’s the team’s leading scorer, and sometimes, doesn’t come off the field by also playing defense and serving as the punt and kick returner.
As for Elijah, he thrives in a much more behind-the-scenes role. Fighting in the trenches, he’s been one of the major reasons why the defensive line has exploded with success this year. He also just recently took on a major role filling in for starting center Lucas Tarin when he got hurt, and has since taken on a role on the offensive line.
Both of the brothers are captains and leaders of the team. Evan knows his brother does all the little things for the team that are really big things but just go unnoticed. And Elijah couldn’t be more proud of Evan for thriving the way he has, despite him getting almost all the spotlight.
Head coach Anthony Gonzales can vouch for that.
“There relationship (is) pretty rare,” he said. “They get along extremely well, it’s more like their friends than brothers. … (Evan) is the one that gets the spotlight. You’d think some jealousy would come from that. But Elijah is his biggest fan.”
Gonzales also sees that the two feed off each other, which helps one another improve every day. And that’s why it’ll be weird next year when Elijah isn’t there.
Evan says the team will miss him, but will do alright. Same goes for how Elijah’s graduation will affect Evan personally. But, unless it’s just how Evan looks when he’s thinking, his dreary eyes and long face told a different story.
Of course, both players look like excellent candidates to play in college. Gonzales expects both to get offers, and maybe they can play on the same team. There’s no guarantee what will happen in a couple years.
Same team or not though, you can count on these brothers to always have each other’s back. Football has partly done that for them.
And, rest assured, they’ll end up laughing it all off later.
Tom Mulherin is a sports reporter for the News-Sun.