Niklas brothers ready to square off Saturday

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The bruises covering Troy Niklas' arms were enough of a concern that an elementary school teacher phoned home, wondering if he was a victim of child abuse.

"My parents weren't happy about that phone call," Niklas recalled with a laugh Wednesday.

In truth, Niklas had been joining his older brother, Austin, every Wednesday behind the junior high building about a mile away to play football with kids three years older than him.

"Let's just say my parents didn't really want us doing that," Austin Niklas said.

"I was like, 'No, I was playing a lot of dodge ball,'" Troy explained of the scars.

On Saturday, their parents and 10-12 other family members will be singing a much different tune inside Notre Dame Stadium, as Troy and Austin Niklas will take the field for Notre Dame and Air Force, respectively.

Since both are linebackers, there is little chance for them to be on the field together, which may not be such a bad thing.

"I'm kind of glad they're not going against each other," Troy Thomas, their coach at Servite High School, said, "because both of those guys are very, very physical and very, very competitive guys."

Troy has earned the nickname "Hercules" from some of his Fighting Irish teammates because of the freshman's 6-foot-6.5, 250-pound physique.

Thomas said the younger Niklas couldn't possibly have weighed more than 180 pounds his freshman year of high school, but he was big enough at a young age to compete with big brother by the time he reached third grade.

"He was a nasty guy," Troy said of Austin, in the highest form of a compliment for a football player. "He did whatever it took, because he knew he wasn't gonna lose to his little brother, and so he didn't let me win much. But when I did win I made sure he knew."

One of the competitive activities they only recently grew out of did not involve a field or ball of any sort: bed wrestling.

And the only reason those matches came to an end was because they broke a couch two years ago.

"There were a couple matches in high school," Troy said. "My mom used to always kind of flip out whenever we'd start up because things would break. We're big people."

Saturday will be the first time they take the same field since Troy's freshman year of high school, when he got called up to varsity for the playoffs.

Making big brother proud is something that was never lost on Troy, especially given Austin's dedication and responsibility at the Air Force Academy.

"Last year Austin came to the Mater Dei game in his uniform, in his blue suit that Air Force guys wear, and I saw him talking to Troy during the game," Thomas said. "And you could just tell Troy was just trying to represent his brother, and it was just a really cool dynamic to see that on the sidelines. And it was such a big game for us and I thought Troy played extremely well."

Still, competition isn't lost on the brothers going into this week.

Austin said the two usually talk once or twice a week over the phone, but Troy said Wednesday that Austin had not returned any of his calls so far leading up to Saturday.

"This next Christmas there's gonna be some major bragging rights," Troy said. "Someone's gonna be eating first."

If that happens to be Troy, who has seen extensive playing time and even started one game this season as a true freshman, Austin has only himself to blame.

And he couldn't be prouder.

"Coming to college I figured he was gonna do all right, because he's always had that competitive edge where he's always played against older people," Austin said. "Coming in as a true freshman and being able to compete and do better than some veteran guys is pretty insane. And I knew he had it in him, but I didn't know he was gonna show it this early. So I'm just really proud of him for being able to step up and do what he's doing."