BOSTON (CBS) – For New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, it has been a long and trying road to the NFL.
Growing up in North Carolina, Spikes’ mother Sherry Allen worked 12-hour shifts to support her two sons. This meant Brandon was mainly raised by his older brother, Breyon Middlebrooks, who was seven years older than him.
While their mother worked, Middlebrooks taught his younger brother everything he knows about football. Brandon idolized him for it.
“He’s my hero. He did introduce me to this game. Growing up I wanted to be like him, he was very athletic, a great guy,” Spikes told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton in an interview for Patriots Gameday. “He taught me all the fundamentals when I was at a young age. How I attack the game, approach the game with relentless effort, my attitude. He embedded in me when I was maybe four or five years old.”
That includes his famous trash-talking on the field.
“I might look at a player profile, look where he comes from,” said Spikes. “Just trying to get under his skin, see if I can get them thinking about something personal instead of executing the play.”
Middlebrooks was thought to have a future in football, possibly even the NFL. But that all derailed when he chose another path in life.
“He just got on off the wrong track; he kind of strayed and got with the wrong crowd,” Spikes said of his older brother.
Middlebrooks is now in jail, serving life without parole for first degree murder. While he admits he was at the scene of a drug deal gone bad, Middlebrooks insists he didn’t pull the trigger.
His younger brother believes him.
“I absolutely believe he is innocent; he always told me he was,” said Spikes, who keeps in contact with his brother over the phone and through letters. “I think we have a chance. Whatever I can do, we’ll fight. We’ll continue to fight.”
“It’s just kind of surreal; it’s crazy. He hasn’t even seen me play in a real game since I was in elementary school,” said Spikes.
Spikes, who was drafted in the second round out of Florida in 2010, contemplated leaving college early so he could get an NFL paycheck and put it towards hiring a better attorney for his brother. But Brayon wanted none of that, and told Brandon to stay in school.
To this day, their phone conversations focus on how proud Middlebrooks is of his younger brother.
“(He tells me) ‘just don’t worry about me, keep doing your thing,’” Spikes recalled. “’Keep living your dream. I had my chances, and it makes me proud that you’re doing what you want to do.’”
“I’m doing what he always told me he was going to do, what he told my mom what he was going to do. When he got in his situation, I felt like it was all on me, the baby boy,” said Spikes. “For me personally, I feel like everything happens for a reason. I feel like God put him in a position to open my eyes. Try to take advantage of my opportunities that I got. It is what it is.”
While his brother taught him most of what he knows, Spikes will never forget what his mother did for the two of them.
“She brought it hard. She could have turned her back on us, raising us, but she didn’t. She fought it out and did whatever she could to raise us. She gave us what we needed, not what we wanted. And I respect that to this day,” Spikes said of his mother.
“It made me, my whole mindset; it made me the man I am today.”
While his road to pro football was not the one he had hoped for, Spikes is still living his dream, and hopes kids today can learn from his story.
“Plain and simple, dreams do come true,” Spikes said is his message for kids. “Follow your dreams. I was always told you’ll never make it, you’ll end up just like your brother… I’m here, and I’m living my dream. I just followed my dream, used all the negative energy and used it as fire.”