Peyton and Eli Manning. Tiki and Ronde Barber. Sterling and Shannon Sharpe.
Brother combinations in the NFL are rare, and these duos are some of the most famous. But even more uncommon is a pair of brothers who attended the same college before having successful NFL careers.
This is exactly what San Diego State alums Kabeer and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila did. With their impressive on-the-field resumes, the Gbaja-Biamila brothers could easily be considered the best sibling duo in school history.
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila tallied a school-record 33 sacks during his career at SDSU from 1996-1999. He was a three-time all-conference selection, and went on to have an illustrious NFL career with the Green Bay Packers. He also set the Packers’ franchise record with 74.5 career sacks in his nine-year career, passing legendary defensive end Reggie White in the process.
Akbar Gbaja-Biamila was a standout linebacker for the Aztecs from 1998-2002. He was an All-Mountain West Conference selection as a senior in 2002, when he wreaked havoc on opposing teams with current NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison. He played four seasons in the NFL, two of which with the Oakland Raiders.
Although these brothers were incredibly skilled on the field, they are much more than football players. Akbar has recently established himself in the sports broadcasting industry, while Kabeer has been actively involved with politics, churches and local school boards.
I spoke with these two brothers about their journey—from young children growing up in Crenshaw, California, to the men they are today.
Q: You grew up in a household with six brothers and one sister, was it a real competitive household?
KGB: “It was very competitive. We used to wrestle, we used to have eating competitions on Thanksgiving, all different kinds of competitions. I was the wrestling champion, I usually dominated the rest of the siblings. We were very competitive, and I think that helped us in college and in the pros.”
AGB: “Having six other siblings was very competitive. We were big WWF (World Wrestling Federation, now WWE) fans, and were to have Royal Rumbles in the house. We got into some wrestling matches and we broke walls that my dad had to patch up over and over again. I remember making belts out of tinfoil and cardboard. We all wanted to win the heavyweight championship, and Kabeer was the first one to win it. I’ll never forget that day.”
Q: You both went to Crenshaw High School, what was your high school athletic career like?
KGB: “I played both ways all through high school. I played offensive tackle, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. The coach thought I was too skinny and wanted me to play linebacker, but I begged him to give me a chance at defensive line. I just remember finding any way I could to cause havoc in the backfield. Playing offensive tackle and tight end gave me a huge advantage because I learned what was hard to block from the offensive perspective.”
AGB: “Growing up in our neighborhood with a lot of gangs, if you wore a Crenshaw basketball sweater nobody would mess with you. As a little kid, all I knew was that I wanted to play basketball for Crenshaw, and then play for the Lakers. My first girlfriend was a Spalding basketball. I would dribble the ball all the time and my life revolved around basketball. In high school, I reached a point where I had center and power forward skills but I wasn’t tall enough to play either position. The football coach begged me to play and that’s how I transitioned to football.”
Q: What was your recruiting process and what led you to eventually choose SDSU?
KGB: “The recruiting process was very interesting. I got recruited by SDSU, San Jose State, Colorado State, and Fresno State. I ended up picking SDSU because I really felt good about (defensive line) coach Ken Delgado and it was closer to home.”
AGB: “The recruiting process was a lot of fun. I was recruited by Colorado State, Cal, Oregon, and SDSU. In the Nigerian household that I grew up in, academics were higher than anything. I wanted to go to Cal at first, and my parents really wanted me to go there too, but I ended up choosing San Diego State. I wanted to have the opportunity to play with my brother for the first time.”
Q: What did you enjoy most about your time at SDSU?
KGB: “I enjoyed my teammates, coaches, and others in the athletic department. It was a very good experience. I remember going to the Las Vegas Bowl, that was a huge accomplishment for us, we didn’t win but we made it there. Breaking the sacks record a great memory for me too.”
AGB: “I think the thing that I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie that I had with my team. I fell in love with the beauty of San Diego, the university and the teachers, I had a lot of teachers who were very personable and helped me guide me through college. I never missed a class because I really enjoyed all of them.”
Q: What was your NFL experience like?
KGB: “The NFL was a great experience. It was very cool to play for a franchise team like the Green Bay Packers. My coaches in the NFL really believed in me and helped me elevate my career to the next level. They always told me that I was just at the tip of the iceberg with my talent, and they helped me do great things. I ended up breaking Reggie White’s record for most sacks in Packers’ history, and that was a huge accomplishment for me.”
AGB: “I took a lot from the NFL experience and it was a blessing. I wasn’t a huge football fan growing up, I was more of a basketball historian. Meeting and playing with childhood idols like Jerry Rice was amazing. Who would have thought a young kid from Crenshaw would be sitting in the presence of Jerry Rice? I played with a lot of legends, guys like Tim Brown, Bill Romanowski, Dana Stubblefield, and others. I learned a lot of wisdom from those guys and that will always be a highlight for me.”
Q: What are you up to now?
KGB: “Right now I do a lot of volunteer work. I dabble in politics, and I have an interest in making a difference on the governmental level both locally and nationally. Right now though the biggest thing I’m doing is taking care of my dad, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago and he moved in with me. That has slowed me down a bit but it has been a blessing because I am able to stay home more and be there for my six kids and my wife. I volunteer at their school, Providence Academy in Green Bay. I work with the school board and I try to stay involved with the churches in the area here.”
AGB: “Towards the end of my NFL career, I started to realize that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was a part of the first class of the NFL Broadcasting Boot Camp in 2005, and I learned a lot about the business. I started doing stuff with NBC 7/39, and that was the start for me. Now, I have my first studio gig with the NFL network and I’m co-hosting a fantasy football show.”
Q: What does the phrase “Aztec for life” mean to you?
KGB: “It’s all about the black and red. I am an always an Aztec. I keep up with them as much as I can. it’s tough to catch games on television but I keep track of them on the Internet, and it’s always good to see them doing well. I am an Aztec for life no matter what, and being inducted into the Aztec Hall of Fame was very cool for me.”
AGB: “Aztec for life means you genuinely bleed red and black. If you were to cut open the flesh, you will see red and black blood. There is a certain pride that we have. When Marshall (Faulk) and I are working with the NFL Network, every opportunity we get we try to cough up the name. We find a way to talk about Ryan Lindley, Vincent Brown, Ronnie Hillman, anybody we can talk about. I’m always following the team and any opportunity I get to come to a game, I’ll be there.”