SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – These are pretty strange times for the family of ESPN broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit.
Battle lines have been drawn. On one side are his identical 19-year-old twin sons, Jake and Tye. Both are non-scholarship freshman football players for Clemson, which plays Ohio State Saturday in a College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Fiesta Bowl.
On the other side are their younger brothers, Zak and Chase, ages 17 and 13. Both are lifelong fans of Ohio State, where both their father Kirk and late grandfather Jim served as captains on the football team.
“It’s been a weird week,” said Jake Herbstreit, a cornerback who is redshirting this year at Clemson.
Even weirder for the Herbstreits is the fact that Kirk Herbstreit – one of the most recognizable faces in college football – is calling the game as a color commentator for ESPN.
The former Buckeyes quarterback is sort of caught in the middle, along with his wife Allison, a former Ohio State cheerleader who has indicated she will be wearing Clemson gear Saturday to support her older sons. Both older brothers grew up as big Ohio State fans and still are – up to a point.
“It’s truly a dream,” said Tye Herbstreit, a receiver who also is redshirting. “Honestly for me, I grew up being an Ohio State fan for as long as I can remember.”
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In 2002, when the twins were 2, they even appeared on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay, sitting with their father, one of the show’s analysts, as he predicted an Ohio State victory. The show had come to Columbus, Ohio, that day when the Buckeyes hosted Washington State in a matchup of two top 10 teams. The Buckeyes won, 25-7.
Seventeen years later, Kirk Herbstreit, 50, had dinner with them this week and tried to referee some of the trash talk between the older and younger brothers, especially with Chase, the youngest and most vocal Buckeyes fan. Kirk Herbstreit called the whole experience “somewhat surreal.”
“We’ve got a family text chain,” Kirk Herbstreit said Friday. “They’ve been having a lot of fun, just getting after each other. I’m like, `Chase, they’re not fans. They’re on the team, so you’ve got to draw the line on how far this trash-talking goes. You’re not on a message board somewhere, you know what I mean? This is like the family here, bro.’”
Game day at the Fiesta Bowl will be even more delicate. “Whose side is your wife on?” was a tricky question for Kirk Herbstreit on Friday.
“Oh man, it’s a great question,” said Herbstreit, who played for the Buckeyes from 1989 to 1992. “She’s sitting in the family section of Clemson, so I’d love to have a camera on her to find out. My seventh grader (Chase) will not sit in the Clemson section so I had to ask Ohio State for tickets. So we bought tickets for Ohio State for my other sons, because my son wanted to wear a Ohio State uniform or jersey.”
Kirk Herbstreit moved the family from Ohio to Nashville in 2011, telling The Columbus Dispatch then that he was moving to get away from a “relentless” vocal minority of Buckeyes fans who didn’t understand that his ESPN job required him to be fair and objective about Ohio State.
The move didn’t break their love for the Buckeyes. But Saturday’s game will for his twins, at least temporarily. Both wanted to play for a big-time program and decided to come to Clemson after attending a football camp there last year. They also attended camps at Alabama and, yes, Ohio State.
In the end, Clemson showed them more love than Ohio State, offering to bring them onto the team as “preferred walk-ons,” which generally means non-scholarship players who are guaranteed a spot on the team roster.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney also met with them and shared his personal story of being a walk-on player at Alabama.
“After getting the (status of) preferred walk-ons and getting a little attention, I knew it was the right school for me,” Jake Herbstreit said Thursday.
His brother Tye, who’s three minutes older than him, echoed that sentiment, saying “Clemson cares about me, and I love coach Swinney and I love what he’s doing to the program.”
“Obviously they (the Buckeyes) were in my mind,” Tye Herbstreit said. “But when it came down to it, I just wanted to go to Clemson, just kind of start my own path with my brother.”
Neither Herbstreit will play in Saturday’s game. They played in four games this season before redshirting, both getting time on special teams and at receiver. Both also worked on the scout team in practice, helping the Tigers prepare for the Buckeyes by simulating their plays.
“My two little brothers are going to be cheering for Ohio State, but they’re going to be cheering for us in the back of their minds,” Tye Herbstreit said. “My mom is going to be wearing some Clemson gear. It’s going to be a fun game, and it’ll be some friendly banter with our family. … It’s kind of fun.”
Follow Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: email@example.com