Late in the football game against Purdue on Nov. 12, Illini star running back Chase Brown, ’22 LAS, suffered what appeared to be a significant leg injury.
As the team’s medical personnel attended to Chase, his identical twin brother Sydney, a top Illinois defensive back, kneeled nearby. Sobbing.
“I never want to see that with anybody, but especially when it happens to someone as close as your brother. It’s devastating,” Sydney says.
“He’s got such a bright future.”
Turns out, Chase was fine. With outstanding treatment by the U of I training staff, he was able to return the next game against No. 3–ranked Michigan and run for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Brown twins have been banged up before, but never anything too serious.
“[When] we were younger,” Sydney says. “We’re talking bumps and bruises.”
Born in London, Ontario, Canada, Chase and Sydney have enjoyed a rise to college football stardom that’s movie script-worthy. Although maybe too unbelievable for Hollywood.
Their dedicated mom Raechel raised the twins with the help of her mom, Nancy McQuillan.
It was not always easy. The boys’ father wasn’t in the picture, and the family struggled financially at times.
“It was very difficult,” Raechel says.
“We didn’t grow up with too much,” Sydney recalls.
At home, Chase and Sydney were a bundle of energy.
“They learned how to climb before they could walk,” Raechel says.
No surprise, the twins scrapped with each other.
“All the time,” Sydney recalls. “We always dealt with stuff physically.”
But mom found ways for her sons to channel their energy.
Early on, the twins tried martial arts. It helped them develop their agility and physicality.
At age 11, they tried football. It took.
“We were naturally good at it,” Chase says.
“We were definitely athletic,” Sydney recalls. “We didn’t know how to play. I started out at receiver.”
Chase played defensive back. “We’ve always been on opposite sides of the ball,” he says. “I think that was something my Mom made sure of.”
“We’ve always been on opposite sides of the ball. I think that was something my Mom made sure of.” —Chase Brown
They played on various teams in Canada, excelling at all levels. Looking to improve the situation for the twins, the family considered relocating them to the U.S., where their academic and football opportunities would be enhanced.
Through personal and football contacts, the Browns met Phil and Karen Yates, a well-off Florida couple who were empty-nesters.
Going into the twins’ junior year in high school, the Yateses agreed to share their home with Chase and Sydney. It was a great match. “The family took such good care of us,” Chase says, “We learned so much from them, especially when it came to discipline.”
Chase and Sydney remain close to the Yateses and are grateful for their support.
The twins attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton, Fla. There, they worked with football coach Tod Creneti, who had a major influence on their lives.
Chase and Sydney made an impact at St. Stephen’s. On the school’s website, they are listed among the prominent alumni.
Together their entire lives (Chase is two minutes older than Sydney), the twins went separate ways in college. At least at first.
Chase, who had multiple scholarship offers, signed with Western Michigan. But the promise of a career as a pilot didn’t pan out at the school, so he joined his brother at Illinois in 2019.
Sydney liked what he heard from then-coach Lovie Smith and signed with Illinois late in the 2018 recruiting cycle. He got significant playing time early in his career at Illinois, which he credits with helping him develop. “I was definitely thrown into the fire,” Sydney says. “I’ve learned a lot from my experiences here. The good and the bad.”
He had more than his share of bad. No winning seasons in his first four years, one bowl and a fired head coach late in 2020.
It has all turned for the team in Sydney and Chase’s final season. Second-year Head Coach Bret Bielema led the Illini to its best regular season (8-4) since the 2008 Rose Bowl team.
It wouldn’t have happened without the Browns, though. Chase led the Big Ten in rushing and finished second nationally. Sydney is tied for the national lead with six interceptions. He had two in the team’s finale against rival Northwestern.
Sydney is set to graduate in December. Chase, who graduated in the spring, is doing postgraduate work.
Football is far from over for either of them. Both are projected to be selected in the 2023 NFL draft. If they continue on their current paths, Sydney and Chase could have long, prosperous pro careers.