Pitt brings three sets of brothers to the field
Dom DeCicco watched with bemusement the bickering between former Pitt players Chris and Scott McKillop — everywhere from the practice field to the locker room — knowing full well what was in store for him.
DeCicco's youngest brother, Brock, has joined the Panthers in training camp. They know there are bound to be moments when the sibling rivalry eventually spills over before their coaches and teammates.
"The McKillops were always fighting, but at the end of practice, they were best friends again," said Dom, a junior safety. "The brothers are always the ones to fight, and they were always yelling back and forth. It was funny to watch.
"Now, having Brock here, I'm sure we're going to have times like that."
They're not the only ones. Pitt has two more sets of brothers on its football team: redshirt junior linebacker Nate Nix and sophomore right tackle Lucas Nix, and sophomore safety Andrew Taglianetti and his twin, redshirt freshman linebacker Jon Taglianetti, who is younger by 20 minutes.
"I think it's great that we have three (sets of) brothers on the team," Andrew Taglianetti said. "We've always known the DeCicco and Nix brothers, so it's nice to come here and be teammates with them. It's exciting to think about the potential both of the DeCiccos and Nixes have and, hopefully, what me and Jon can bring."
While the Nix and DeCicco brothers were teammates at Thomas Jefferson, playing together at Pitt adds an interesting twist for the Taglianettis. They attended South Fayette as freshmen, where Jon played varsity and Andrew on the JV, before transferring to Central Catholic as sophomores. Where Andrew started for three years at Central, Jon was unhappy as a backup and returned to South Fayette for his junior and senior seasons.
"We didn't play together in high school, so it's a cool thing," Jon said. "In spring ball, we were both on the second team, so it was the first time since we were freshmen (at South Fayette) that we really got to play together."
A rarity at Pitt — or elsewhere
Pitt has a history of prominent brother acts, from Nick and Al Bolkovac in the 1950s to John, Jeff and J.C. Pelusi in the '70s to Lynn and Pappy Thomas and John and Tom Brown in the early '80s to the McCurleys (Jeff and Scott) and McKillops in the past decade.
It's just unusual for the Panthers to have so many sets of brothers at once. In fact, unofficial Pitt historian Alex Kramer, who has been associated with the football program in various capacities for 60-plus years, could recall only a handful of sets of brothers who played for Pitt at the same time.
"It's unique," said Kramer, 80, who started as a Pitt student manager in 1948 and later worked under head coaches Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill.
The family reunion is about to expand. Pitt will have four sets of brothers next fall, when redshirt freshman tailback Chris Burns is joined by his brother, Wilmington senior running back-linebacker Derrick Burns, who has given a verbal commitment to play for the Panthers.
By comparison, Penn State has two sets of brothers (Josh and Ethan Hull and Patrick and Michael Mauti), while West Virginia has none. The only other Big East Conference program with as many sets of brothers is Rutgers, which features Andrew and Nick DePaola, Antonio and Antwan Lowery and twin freshmen Jamal and Jamil Merrell.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believes the brotherly bond, as well as the early success of the older Nix and DeCicco brothers, helped influence their highly recruited younger brothers to pick the Panthers.
"I think it's a positive situation for those younger brothers following in their footsteps," Wannstedt said.
Lucas Nix couldn't agree more.
"The older ones put us in place and kept us in line all these years," Lucas Nix said. "It's nice to see them take that role as bigger brother and show you how to do something. You see them do something right, and that's what you want to do."
What makes Pitt's three sets of brothers special is the impact four of them have had early in their careers, especially on special teams. Dom DeCicco went from starring on kickoff coverage as a freshman to starting 11 games last season. As the wedge buster on kickoffs, Nate Nix collected 14 tackles last season. Andrew Taglianetti blocked three punts as a freshman.
"All three (sets of brothers), we all love the game of football," Dom DeCicco said. "We want to do anything to get on the field."
Separated by the depth chart
Another unusual element for each of the sets of brothers to deal with is that while one has plenty of playing time, the other sees it sparingly. Nate Nix is a reserve strong-side linebacker while Lucas Nix is projected to start at right tackle. Dom DeCicco is a starting safety, but Brock might be a redshirt candidate. Andrew Taglianetti is battling for a starting safety job alongside DeCicco, but Jon is a fourth-string middle linebacker.
That serves as motivation for the brothers who are backups, as well as ammunition for those who are starting. Lucas Nix said he purposely agitates Nate to make sure his older brother keeps battling to get in the lineup.
"It makes me want to work harder," Nate said.
The younger brothers are all bigger than their big brothers. Brock DeCicco (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) has a two-inch height advantage over Dom. Lucas Nix (6-6, 300) is four inches taller and 65 pounds heavier than Nate. And Jon Taglianetti (6-1, 225) has two inches and 35 pounds on Andrew. Even so, they look up to their smaller siblings.
"I love watching that kid play," Jon Taglianetti said of Andrew. "The stuff he can do, he has me in awe sometimes. I'm his biggest fan. I think right now, I'd give up the size for the speed. That's what matters most."
What might matter even more for Pitt's three sets of brothers is having someone to turn to and lean on when times get tough, knowing that their sibling has been through it and can offer advice.
"I think it helps a lot because I have an idea what we're going to do," Brock DeCicco said. "What I want to do here is stop being called 'Dom's little brother' and make a name for myself by making some plays on my own."
A family affair
A look at how Pitt's three sets of brothers fared in 2008:
Player (Yr./Pos.) — Comment
Brock DeCicco (Fr. TE) — Led Thomas Jefferson to PIAA 'AAA' title
Dom DeCicco (Jr. S) — 56 tackles, team-high four INTs in 11 starts
Lucas Nix (So. OL) — Reserve RT played in six games; now set to start
Nate Nix (Jr.* LB) — Wedge-buster had 14 tackles, fumble recovery
Andrew Taglianetti (So. S) — Blocked three punts, had fumble recovery
Jon Taglianetti (Fr.* LB) — Walk-on played on scout team, took redshirt