By Connor Smith
Hours after Tod Creneti met Chase and Sydney Brown, he had dinner with the then-16-year-old twin brothers, who had just completed the 1,300-plus-mile drive from their hometown of London, Ontario in Canada to Bradenton, Florida.
Creneti and the Brown twins sat at one end of the table while their mother, Raechel Brown, sat at the other. After two seasons at London South Collegiate Institute, Chase and Sydney would soon become Creneti’s players at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School as they began life in the U.S.
“They were just wide-eyed,” said Creneti, Foundation Coaching founder and consultant. “They were still trying to adjust to the fact that they had made this trip, that they were leaving home.”
The Brown twins played two seasons under Creneti before having successful collegiate careers at Illinois. Nearly seven years later, the 23-year-old brothers had their names called in the 2023 NFL draft. After the Philadelphia Eagles took Sydney, a safety, at No. 66 overall in the third round, the Cincinnati Bengals took Chase, a running back, at No. 163 in the fifth round.
“What sets guys apart is how much you’re willing to sacrifice and how much you’re willing to push yourself to be great,” Creneti said. “So far, there seems to be no limit to how hard they’ll work or how much they’ll sacrifice.”
Growing up in Canada, the brothers eyed hockey, but their family couldn’t afford the sport. They eventually took a love to football; their father, Darren Isaac, played three seasons in the Canadian Football League in the early ’90s.
As the brothers gained more football experience entering their teenage years, Raechel had a daughter and became ill with immune thrombocytopenic purpura, a disease in which white blood cells destroy platelets. Living solely with their mother, Chase and Sydney had to take care of their younger sister, Mya, before the family ended up in a homeless shelter. The brothers also spent time with their maternal grandmother, Nancy McQuillan.
“You see this woman who’s got all the life in the world, and it’s being sucked away from her,” Sydney told NFL Network. “Especially with my sister, who doesn’t have an idea in the world of what she’s getting herself into.”
Amid the challenges, football was still an escape. Raechel helped her sons apply to Saint Stephen’s Episcopal, where they got accepted for the 2016 season.
After high school, Chase played one season at Western Michigan while participating in the university’s aviation program. He then transferred to Illinois, where he recorded 3,206 career rushing yards, second most in program history.
Sydney served as team captain in 2022, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors and leading the conference with six interceptions. For the first time in program history dating back to the NFL-AFL merger, Illinois had three defensive backs drafted, including Brown, Devon Witherspoon (No. 5, Seattle Seahawks) and Jartavius Martin (No. 47, Washington Commanders).
The brothers were the ninth set of twins selected in the same NFL draft and the sixth over the past 40 years. They watched from their home in Ontario, where Illinois coach Bret Bielema and director of strength and conditioning Tank Wright joined them.
“Tradition and history never graduates,” Bielema told reporters. “These guys move on and have the chance to play in the NFL, but who they are and what they represent stays within us.”
From Canada to Florida to Champaign, Creneti said the brothers’ ability to overcome obstacles has been remarkable.
“When you see people being successful, instead of assuming their lives are easy, we should assume there was adversity that had to be overcome,” Creneti said. “Because in the end, that’s what separates good from great.”