Iwema brothers bring sibling rivalry to SIU football

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

Having a brother at the same school and on the same team is a luxury most college athletes don’t have, but Saluki football players Connor and Cole Iwema do — even if they don’t always see it that way.

Cole, a redshirt freshman safety, said having his older brother around has made the transition to college life easier.

“It’s like having a dad, twice,” Cole said. “He tries to act like my dad all the time.”

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Connor, a junior wide receiver, was quick to laugh off the notion of being a father-figure. He said it is one of the most awkward things Cole has ever said, but he echoed the sentiment of enjoying having his brother at SIU.

“I went through the first two years on my own … now I always have part of my family with me,” Connor said. “Don’t get me wrong, it can get annoying having him always around.”

Both brothers played football, basketball and baseball growing up, but they had never been on the same team until coming to SIU.

Connor, who started playing football in second grade, was on the baseball and wrestling team at Warren Township High School, where both brothers played for the football team, but at different times.

In their respective senior seasons, Connor finished all-conference, all-county and all-area. Cole finished all-conference. Connor’s accolade-filled season led the Blue Devils to the playoffs.

Connor said he has always had the upper hand when competing against his brother, which Cole blames on age.

“I asserted my dominance at a young age, being the big brother,” Connor said. “He toughened up pretty quick.”

The brothers are different away from the field — Cole works on cars in the garage and Connor plays football any chance he gets — but it hasn’t stopped them from making it to the Salukis.

Coach Nick Hill, who served as co-offensive coordinator last season, said he has seen a lot of each player, with Connor on offense and Cole on scout defense playing against first-team offense every practice. He said Cole needs to follow in his brother’s footsteps — becoming stronger, working hard and becoming tough-minded — to earn playing time this season.

Connor said adjusting to the speed of the game is key for Cole.

“He made it here because he was good in high school and a lot of people think that is enough,” he said. “It takes constant work and attention to your game to earn a starting spot and keep it.”

Wide receivers coach Ashton Aikens said Connor, who was a walk-on and redshirted as a freshman, is an example of a true underdog story.

“In the time that I’ve been here, not many kids have made the team from a walk-on tryout,” he said. “He made it the hard way … it’s a character thing, when a guy can overcome the odds.”

Connor played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman, catching eight passes for 117 yards. He caught his lone career touchdown against Indiana State in a 41-26 loss Oct. 25, 2014.

He caught six passes for 33 yards and collected one yard on two rushes before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder during the first quarter of a 37-36 loss at Western Illinois on Oct. 3, 2015, which ended his season.

Aikens said he doesn’t expect the injury to slow Connor down and he expects him to compete to re-earn the starting spot he had before injury. Iwema had surgery four months ago to repair the labrum. He said he is seeking clearance for full participation for Spring practices, but may be limited until fall camp to ensure his health for the season.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3333

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