Belvidere North brothers have a competitive bond forged through football

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star
Brothers Nick, left, and Aaron Winters both play linebacker, tight end and long snapper for Belvidere North. They say their lifelong competition with each other has made them better players.

BELVIDERE — Nick Winters grew up playing football with his older brother.

“When we were young, my dad put me up to play with Aaron,” Nick said. “We played on the same team until we got split up in middle school. It’s fun to be back with him, being able to work together.”

And against each other. The two anchor Belvidere North’s defense as starting linebackers and also play tight end. They play together as one. But in practice, the highlight of the day can be when they become opponents.

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“When we go together in a cage drill or something, it’s really competitive,” said Aaron, a senior who was a first-team all-conference linebacker as a junior and also led North in receiving from his tight end position. “Everybody gets into it because it’s brother-on-brother.

“Everybody is always supporting the little brother and trying to make the big brother nervous. I usually don’t let that happen.”

“Any time we have the opportunity,” Nick, a junior first-time starter, said, “we are always going against each other, trying to make each other better and everyone always gets so hyped about it.”

The brothers used to get a little too hyped about their competition.

“We were always going at it, always trying to be better than the other one,” Nick said.

Belvidere North's Aaron Winters tackles East's Shamar Holt during their NIC-10 game last week at Belvidere North.

And not just in football.

“Oh, man, we are really competitive,” Aaron said. “And we were even more competitive when we were younger. Growing up, we always wanted to be the alpha. As we got older, we got along better.

“We were competitive in everything. We played a lot of sports: soccer, football and basketball. And we wrestled a lot at home. We would get in little fights, and then it would pile up into a bigger fight and would start fighting about it.

“Our parents would get mad. They didn’t want either of us to get hurt. We would do it secretly. We would go into his room and wrestle, but try to do it so they would not hear, so they would not know.”

Physically, there really isn’t a “big” brother and a “little” brother. Aaron is 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. Nick is 6-1, 190.

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And they do most of the same things on the field. Nick backs Aaron up at tight end when he isn’t playing linebacker, with some time at defensive back. And both are long snappers on special teams.

“And one wears No. 27 and one wears No. 21, so sometimes people get them confused a lot in practice,” North coach Jeff Beck said. “Their style of play is very similar. Both are really sound tacklers, good at getting off the blocks and getting nice clean reads on the offensive linemen so they have a good idea of where the play is going to be.

“But personally they are pretty different,” Beck added. “Aaron is concerned with every detail. He takes his role as a senior seriously and is one of our captains. He always wants to watch more film whenever he has time. Everything we do on defense, he wants to know why we do it. He wants to know the bigger picture and get the defense lined up with the coverage behind him.

"Nick goes more with the flow and plays loose on the field. He lets Aaron tell him what his responsibility is, and he just lines up and plays.”

Belvidere North's Nicholas Winters pursues East's Shamar Holt during their NIC-10 game last week at Belvidere North.

Together, the Winters brothers helped hold East to 2 or fewer yards rushing on 20 of 40 carries in last week’s season-opening 14-12 victory. The Blue Thunder (1-0) face an even bigger challenge this week at perennial power Boylan (1-0).

But then Nick has been preparing for bigger challenges all his life.

“Playing against the older kids definitely made me better. There was so much more competition,” Nick said. “It still is now. I had to work way harder to get my spot. Everyone was always older than me.”

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Starting with his brother. His biggest opponent. And now his most helpful teammate.

“The difference between them is a good thing,” Beck said. “The great part about it is they are very similar in their play, but Nick looks to Aaron, and Aaron leads him. One of Aaron’s big goals was to step up as a leader, and he has really done that this year.”

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge