Brotherly love aids big surge for WCU

El­ders car­ry­ing load for Rams on of­fense, de­fense, spe­cial teams

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter

WEST GOSHEN >> In a backand-forth bat­tle of big plays, one of the big­gest se­quences came when West Ch­ester Univer­sity’s Jarey El­der picked off a Ship­pens­burg pass, and his older brother Jarel promptly scored on the very next play.

It gave the Golden Rams their first lead and they never trailed again en route to a 37-27 tri­umph last week­end over the pre­vi­ously un­beaten Red Raiders. West Ch­ester is now all alone in first place in the PSAC East and will be heavy fa­vorites in their fi­nal four games of the reg­u­lar sea­son, in­clud­ing Satur­day’s clash against Blooms­burg at Far­rell Sta­dium (12:30 p.m. kick­off).

Few could re­late to such a unique mo­ment between broth­ers/team­mates be­cause it is ob­vi­ously a rare oc­cur­rence. But we found out later that WCU’s head coach, Bill Zwaan, was ac­tu­ally some­body who could truly ap­pre­ci­ate what had tran­spired.

“It has hap­pened at least one other time,” he said with a chuckle.

The year was 1971. Zwaan was the star quar­ter­back at Arch­bishop Car­roll and his younger brother, Joe, was a line­backer for the Pa­tri­ots.

“Joe had an in­ter­cep­tion in a big play­off game against St. Joseph’s Prep, and I scored on the very next play,” Zwaan re­called.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties are strik­ing, but it ends with the post-game cel­e­bra­tion. There may have been a hug or a hand­shake 46 years ago. On Satur­day, at Ship­pens­burg’s Seth Grove Sta­dium, the El­der broth­ers went with a glee­ful, high-fly­ing, twist­ing chest-bump that’s all the rage th­ese days. It was spon­ta­neous and heart­felt, but the ex­e­cu­tion was a lit­tle off.

“It ended up be­ing kind of a Euro step,” ex­plained Jarel, a se­nior run­ning back. “You are sup­posed to go up and over to op­po­site sides, but we weren’t on the same page be­cause I nearly knocked Rey-Jay’s teeth out.”

WCU’s Big-Play Duo

Jarel, 22, is a proven all-league runner, who rushed for 1,013 yards a year ago and is the reign­ing PSAC East Co-Ath­lete of the Week. Just 5-foot-7, 165-pounds, he ran for 149 yards and two touch­downs against Ship­pens­burg. He leads the Rams with eight TDs and is fifth in the con­fer­ence, av­er­ag­ing 92.5 rush­ing yards per con­test.

Jarey, 20, is a 5-11, 170-pound sopho­more who plays free safety and cur­rently leads West Ch­ester with two in­ter­cep­tions and is sec­ond on the team with 28 tack­les so far. Jarey played in all 11 games as a true fresh­man in 2016 and earned the start­ing job this spring.

“They are both big-play guys,” Zwaan said.

“When broth­ers are very com­pet­i­tive, some­times there can be a jeal­ousy if one is play­ing more than the other, and that can get in the way.

“But mostly they are sup­port­ive of each other, and that’s what Jarey and Jarel are. They are com­pet­i­tive, but they are the first ones to high­five each other. They hang out to­gether. They pro­vide tremen­dous sup­port for each other.”

In ad­di­tion, Jarel re­turns punts and Jarey is the kick-re­turn man. That means that on any given play, you can be as­sured that an El­der is go­ing to be on the field for WCU about 95 per­cent of the time.

“We played both sides of the ball in high school,” Jarey said. “Now I can ac­tu­ally watch him play, and it’s a bless­ing. Ev­ery­thing he does, I’m watch­ing and ev­ery­thing I do, he’s watch­ing.”

Back­ground Goes Deep

They are ‘Rel’ and ‘Rey’ to just ev­ery­body as­so­ci­ated with WCU. Let’s just say up front that there are a lot of nick­names sur­round­ing the El­ders. With names like Jarel and Jarey, it’s un­der­stand­able. Plus, they have older broth­ers Ja­mal and Jaren.

“My mom still messes up all of our names,” said Jarel, who calls his younger brother ReyJay.

“Jarel’s nick­name is Rel, but some­times my Mom calls him ‘Smelly Rel,’” Jarey laughed. “Ev­ery­body loves to hear that one.”

The El­ders are from Al­len­town, by way of Plain­field, N.J. Now 30, Ja­mal played foot­ball for Plain­field High School. The fam­ily then moved to Penn­syl­va­nia in 2005 and Jaren, 28, was a star at Park­land High. Par­ents Thomas and Sheri al­ways en­cour­aged the boys to play sports, but they in­sisted that they all get an ed­u­ca­tion.

“They come from a great fam­ily, and they have their heads on straight,” Zwaan said of the El­der broth­ers. “They know what they want to get out of col­lege, both on the foot­ball field and in the class­room. They will make some­thing spe­cial out of them­selves.

“They are very fo­cused, and that’s great to have on a team be­cause they get other guys fo­cused. They aren’t just tal­ented play­ers, the lead­er­ship they show is re­ally spe­cial.”

Com­pet­i­tive Na­ture

Due to the age dif­fer­ence, the broth­ers never played on the same or­ga­nized foot­ball team un­til 2012 at Park­land, when Jarel was the star se­nior and Jarey was a promis­ing two-way sopho­more starter. All along the way, how­ever, there were a lot of com­pet­i­tive bat­tles in the back­yard, the drive­way and the school­yard.

Re­cently, the four broth­ers got to­gether for a spir­ited game of four square.

“We are com­pet­i­tive with ev­ery­thing we do,” Jarey said. “We al­ways talk about who is the bet­ter bas­ket­ball player, or pool player, or who is the best all-around on the foot­ball field. It’s al­ways a fun fam­ily ar­gu­ment.

Jarel added: “It was al­ways a big fam­ily dis­cus­sion. I al­ways say that Rey is the most tal­ented one. He’s not as fast as me, but he is quick and has a knack for where to be on the field. We both have play­mak­ing abil­ity. Any play can turn into a big play with ei­ther one of us.”

“He says I’m not ath­letic — that I’m just good at foot­ball. I tend to agree be­cause on the bas­ket­ball court, it’s not a pretty sight. I’m all about de­fense.”

When told of his older brother’s com­ment, Jarey seemed both moved and also a bit an­noyed.

“That’s a great com­pli­ment com­ing from Rel,” he said. “A lot of the things I do I at­tribute to him. Grow­ing up, I watched and learned from him. He’s been a guy I could al­ways go to for ad­vice, whether it was foot­ball or with life.

“But I have to say that even though he is faster in a straight ahead sprint, when it comes to lat­eral quick­ness, he can’t beat me.”

The Re­cruit­ing Process

Due his small stature, Jarel wasn’t highly re­cruited out of high school even though he was a stand­out.

“A lot of schools were back­ing off of him, but we saw a great play­maker,” Zwaan said. “He was just all over the place.

“We thought we got a re­ally good one and he turned out to be a great one.”

A cou­ple years later, Jarey was big­ger and a much more sought af­ter prospect. He was re­cruited by FCS schools like New Hampshire and St. Fran­cis (Pa.) and re­ceived a schol­ar­ship of­fer from the Univer­sity of Al­bany. He was also highly sought af­ter by PSAC pro­grams like Blooms­burg, In­di­ana (Pa.) and Cal­i­for­nia (Pa.).

“Their par­ents liked what was go­ing on with Jarel, es­pe­cially aca­dem­i­cally,” Zwaan ex­plained.

“We knew we were in for a bat­tle to get Jarey, but he was lean­ing our way right from the get-go be­cause of Jarel. It wound up be­ing eas­ier than I thought.”

Right from the start, Jarel wanted his brother to join him at West Ch­ester, but was re­luc­tant to join in on the re­cruit­ing ef­fort.

“I stayed out of it. At the end of the day I wanted it to be his de­ci­sion,” he said.

“(Jarel) was hands-off and didn’t want to in­flu­ence me too much,” Jarey ac­knowl­edged. “I do re­mem­ber him telling me that this is the one time in your life where you can be truly self­ish and do what’s best for you.

“I don’t think I ever came right out said it, but I just wanted to play with Rey again. It was just kind of an un­der­stand­ing.”

As ex­pected, Jarel took his lit­tle brother un­der his wing when he ar­rived on cam­pus in 2015.

“Our par­ents raised us well, so I knew he wasn’t go­ing to get in trou­ble or any­thing,” Jarel said. “It was more mak­ing sure he stays on track with grades. I didn’t have to say much about foot­ball.”

Al­ways Close; Now Closer

It didn’t take long for the two to meet on the prac­tice field. That’s be­cause when Jarey ar­rived, Zwaan and his staff de­cided to put him in the de­fen­sive back­field rather than at one of the skill po­si­tions on of­fense. Jarel, on the other hand, has been a run­ning back from the mo­ment he stepped on cam­pus.

“We knew we were good enough at run­ning back with guys like Bran­don Monk and Jarel, and that (Jarey) could play re­ceiver on of­fense,” Zwaan ex­plained. “But we also knew if we put him on de­fense and he would make big plays and be a leader. He still has an of­fen­sive mind­set, but we just felt he would prop up our de­fense more.”

The broth­ers have col­lided more than a few times in work­outs, with Jarey try­ing to make a tackle, or Jarel try­ing to make a block. It’s stan­dard com­pet­i­tive foot­ball, with just one ex­cep­tion: “Some­times I have to block Rey,” Jarel said. “One time I was sup­posed to do a chop-block, and I don’t like to do that to any­body on the team. I tried to give him a lit­tle hit and he got up, and said: ‘I can’t be­lieve you just tried to chop­block me!’”

They have al­ways been close, but now that Jarel is a se­nior and Jarey is a starter, they are hang­ing to­gether away from the foot­ball field more than ever.

“We are gelling a lit­tle more as he gets older,” Jarel said.

“When you are grow­ing up, no­body wants to have their younger brother around,” Jarey added. “But now, we have a lot of the same group of friends and play on the same team. It’s brought us a lot closer, and we are ex­tremely thank­ful for that.”

Jarey knows that things are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent when Jarel grad­u­ates next spring (he is ma­jor­ing in bi­ol­ogy). And not all of it is bad.

“I kind of went through the same thing in high school,” Jarey said. “When he grad­u­ated, I wasn’t Jarel’s younger brother any­more. That is one thing I am look­ing for­ward too. I love play­ing with my brother but it would be nice to be known as Jarey and not Jarel’s lit­tle brother.”

Jarey is ma­jor­ing in pro­fes­sional stud­ies and is think­ing about pur­su­ing a ca­reer in health and coach­ing. He says that that all of his team­mates are his broth­ers, but that get­ting the chance to play col­lege ball with Jarel is spe­cial.

“Be­ing able to see (Jarel) go out there and make plays mo­ti­vates me to do the same,” he said.

“There is noth­ing bet­ter than play­ing with my brother,” Jarel pointed out. “If he’d have gone any­where else, I would have been a lit­tle up­set.

“We have mo­ments that we can cher­ish for­ever.”


West Ch­ester’s Jarel El­der runs with the ball dur­ing a game last sea­son against Ship­pens­burg.


Jarey El­der, here dur­ing his time at Park­land High School, was re­cruited by a few FCS schools be­fore de­cid­ing to join his brother at West Ch­ester.

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