Oh, brother: Raji weighs on foes

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Lori Nickel
Friday, January 14, 2011
— People meet the Raji brothers and try to figure it out.

Twenty-four-year-old B.J. Raji is 6-foot-2, and listed, perhaps kindly, at 337 pounds.

Corey, two years younger, is 6-6, 218.

“People would ask me all the time: What happened to you?” Corey Raji said. “Did your brother eat all of your food or something?”

Even on the NFL field, Green Bay’s starting nose tackle is imposing. Off of it, Raji looks like a giant. You probably have a 12- or 18-ounce sports bottle for water during a workout. His? It’s a gallon. Sloshing around as he holds it when he returns from lifting weights, it looks like something that should be propped on a water cooler.

B.J. Raji has no idea where his supposed nickname listed in the media guide—“Earthquake”—came from. But he knows this: Being big isn’t enough for the NFL.

And that’s where the taller, thinner kid brother, and their mutual love for basketball, come into his story.

Corey is a senior forward at Boston College. Growing up in Washington Township, N.J., the Raji brothers played in summer basketball leagues and pickup games, which were very competitive in their neighborhood. B.J. and Corey also would often join games at Morningside Park in Manhattan or Clark Field and Hegeman parks in their township Washington Township, N.J., to find the best players and toughest competition.

And then they would play each other.

“He would always post me up, of course,” Corey said this week. “And when he did that, I always tried to use my speed on him. But that didn’t always work, either.”

The Basketball only helped bring out the athletic, quick side of B.J. Long practices developed his aerobic endurance. Dribbling and working the pivot foot developed nimble, sure footwork. And then he just couldn’t get beat by players like his brother, even if they had a very different body type.

“You play lot of lighter guys, a lot of quicker guys,” said B.J. “That makes you craftier and a good athlete. The one-on-one battles were the best. You develop a lot of pride at a young age. You don’t want anyone to beat you one-on-one.”

B.J. Raji chose Boston College (over other schools who that recruited him (like Wisconsin), and the athleticism became apparent right away.

“In a game at Notre Dame, he took the guard—they were running a zone play—and he threw the guard into the back,” former Boston College coach Jeff JagodzinskiÖ said last year.

The rare combination of size, speed, talent and smarts made Raji a highly desired prospect. At the NFL Combine he interviewed with 29 of the 32 teams.

In just his second year, the Packers made room for Raji to start at nose tackle. With his size, he can soak up blockers. With his speed, he can chase down quarterbacks and running backs.

Even defensive lineman Ryan Pickett was blown away by Raji’s athleticism.

“Just looking at him? You can’t really tell how athletic he is,” said Pickett. “He’s very fast and quick. I was shocked.”

When Raji entered the NFL last year, there were comparisons with former Tampa Bay and Oakland quarterback killer Warren Sapp, whose 96.5 career sacks are the second-most ever for a defensive tackle.

“Warren Sapp—you couldn’t block him now,” Jagodzinski said Jagonzinski then. “I mean you couldn’t. He was such a disruptive force. That’s a pretty hefty comparison. Warren is going to be a Hall of Fame player.”

When he’s not working, he’s trying to catch his brother’s games on TV. Corey is a 1,000-point scorer off the bench for Boston College (13-4). He averages 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds this season.

They are still workout friends.

“He was so dedicated in the off-season,” said Corey. “He would work out two, sometimes three, times a day. He said, ‘I want to make it to the Pro Bowl.’.”

Many felt B.J. deserved that honor this year.

That was probably hard to explain to his father, Busari Raji, a Nigerian immigrant who came to the United States to study medicine in New York. He’s now a medical researcher and also a Pentecostal minister like his wife, Mamie.

Soccer, of course is Busari Raji’s game. These American sports, well, if B.J. and Corey didn’t do well enough in their school studies, they knew football and basketball were out. It just wasn’t the top priority.

But Raji’s father enjoys watching his two incredibly athletic sons now. Basketball he gets. Football is a challenge, but he does appreciate his son’s 6.5 sacks this year.

“It’s so funny. My dad was very supportive of us, but he just doesn’t have the American sports background,” said B.J. “I still try to teach him things. Like he knows what a sack is now, but I’ll tell him what my stats mean. Quarterback pressures, things like that.

“He still has a lot of fun, like he knows the game. I guess he’s just proud of the fact that I’m playing.”

Last updated: 4:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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