FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In what is often a stressful time for New England Patriots rookies when they answer questions from reporters for the first time, sixth-round draft choice Conor McDermott couldn’t help but flash a smile Thursday as he was handed an iPhone that showed a decade-old picture of him standing next to his brother Kevin.
Now 6-foot-8, Conor towers over pretty much everybody. But that wasn’t the case at that time of his life, even though there was something else that stood out to him.
“I always joked that my head was bigger than my brother’s in this picture because growing up I always looked two years older,” he said.
There are a lot of photos of them together during the years, like the one from Conor’s early years at Ensworth High School in Nashville, Tennessee, when he grew taller than Kevin for the first time.
"When I stand next to him, I look like a miniature version of myself," Kevin joked.
They are best friends. They are also both in the NFL, which adds a neat layer to their brotherly bond.
Kevin, now 27, enters his third season as a long-snapper for the Minnesota Vikings. Conor, 24, is just embarking on his NFL journey with the Patriots.
“I’m very proud of him. He had odds stacked against him and worked really hard to get where he is,” Kevin said after completing a day of work in the Vikings’ voluntary offseason program earlier this week.
Said Conor: “He’s been my role model and inspiration ever since I was little. He helped me through this process. Whenever I needed advice, he’s given it to me, just always been there for me.”
Although both brothers find themselves fully engaged with their respective teams, they text each other pretty much every day, and talk at least once a week. The foundation for their bond was created in their early years.
“We’re the only kids in the family and grew up on a dead-end street, so pretty much every day we’d be riding bikes or he’d be hanging out with me when I was with my friends,” Kevin said. “We played the same sports. When I was a senior in high school, he played basketball and football with me. Then when I was a senior at UCLA, he was a freshman on the football team. So we’ve been on the same teams and have a very close-knit family.”
Kevin enjoys telling the story about how Conor wound up at UCLA with him.
“He won’t brag about this because he’s very humble, but he was a Mr. Basketball winner his senior year in high school, and had offers to go to some mid-major D-I schools for basketball that perennially make the NCAA tournament but aren’t going past the first round very often,” he relayed.
“He was always very athletic, playing tight end and playing multiple sports. He also had an offer to gray shirt and play tight end at Virginia Tech. I was a walk-on at UCLA and played tight end, was a tackling dummy on scout team, and long-snapped. Conor used to come out to my games every once in a while with my parents and the UCLA coaching staff, Coach [Rick] Neuheisel saw him one day and went, ‘Who is that kid that is 6-7 walking around?’ They found out it was my brother, and had the foresight to think ‘He’s a really athletic kid, he has the frame, we can put weight on him and make him an All-Pac 12 left tackle.’
“So from Day 1, they said, ‘You’re going to play tackle,’ but he played tight end in high school at 225. So he had to put on almost 100 pounds over his career at UCLA, which he worked really hard to do, and he had to learn a completely new position.”
Conor, who spent one prep year at The Kent School in Connecticut before enrolling at UCLA, evolved as a player despite changes in the Bruins’ coaching ranks, with Jim Mora replacing Neuheisel and honoring his scholarship. Now he continues his education with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, whose track record in developing young blockers is well established.
Conor said Thursday that his first impressions of Scarnecchia have been great, and that he’s looking forward to working with him.
Said Kevin: “Now it’s, ‘Whatever anyone is telling you, you’re writing it down and reviewing it three times the next day.’ The biggest thing is the mental aspect of, ‘Listen, this is a job, you need to treat it as such.’ The level of detail is heightened. Perfection is required at almost every turn.”
Meanwhile, because of his brother, Conor already had a good feel for NFL life.
“He’s been good about learning from my experience because I’ve been on quite a few different teams and have now found a home here in Minnesota,” said Kevin, who previously snapped for the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens before landing in Minnesota. “He’s seen me go through the process, so hopefully some of it won’t be as big of a surprise. It’s very cool that we’re both in the same profession.”