Nate Edwards and Sam Sykes make trouble on the football field mostly for Cheltenham High opponents.
Sometimes, they can’t help but turn their competitive fire on each other.
“I’ll grab Nate and go one way, and another coach will grab Sam and go the other,” Cheltenham coach Ryan Nase said. “We don’t want them to go so hard at each other that we lose both.”
Edwards likes to push his younger sibling to the limit. Sykes likes to answer back.
“It’s chaos at home,” Sykes said. “Especially when we play video games.”
Sibling rivalry aside, Sykes is Edwards’ biggest supporter, and vice versa. The two of them have played pivotal roles in one of the best seasons in Cheltenham history.
Edwards, a senior all-purpose standout, leads the Panthers with 14 touchdowns, many of the highlight-reel variety.
Sykes, a junior running back/linebacker, has rushed for four touchdowns and excelled on the other side of the football as a sure tackler with a knack for forcing and recovering fumbles.
“They both have hearts like lions,” Nase said of the brothers.
Cheltenham (10-1), which this season became the first team in school history to go undefeated in Suburban One League play, will host Unionville (6-4) in the PIAA District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals Friday.
With a victory, the Panthers would set the school record for wins in a season, eclipsing the mark of 10 set in 1975 and matched in 1996, 2001 and 2003.
“It’s amazing,” Edwards said. “We deserve it. We worked for it.”
The Panthers’ success is extra special for Edwards and Sykes because they can share it with each other and use it as ammunition in arguments with their older brothers, Dan and Manny Rouse.
Dan Rouse, who played defensive back at Temple, and Manny Rouse were members of the 2010 Cheltenham team, the program’s last to win a share of an SOL division title. But those Panthers weren’t undefeated in league play.
“Our record speaks for itself,” Edwards said.
Said Sykes: “It’s all good vibes between us and our brothers. Friendly competition."
Edwards and Sykes also are track standouts who with star running back/defensive back Jamir Barnes formed three-quarters of the Panthers’ 4x100 relay team that took fourth in the state in the spring.
Edwards and Sykes have been playing together for years, starting with the Olney Eagles and Lawncrest Lions youth teams. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Edwards, a year older than Sykes, always was a little faster and served as a role model for this brother.
“Ever since we were little kids, playing Pop Warner, just watching him play offense, I was like, ‘I have to do that. I have to be that guy,’ ” the 5-8, 175-pound Sykes said.
These days, the brothers inspire each other. Edwards, a first-team All-SOL American selection on offense and defense, has turned 19 receptions into 475 yards and nine touchdowns. He has run for a score, brought an interception back for another, and taken three kickoffs to the house.
“Nobody wants to kick to him,” Nase said.
Sykes, a second-team All-SOL American selection at linebacker, has made 84 tackles, with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He made perhaps the season’s biggest tackle with a goal-line stop in a 28-24 victory over Plymouth Whitemarsh, which is 9-1 and has advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals.
“Every game, I try and do a little bit more than he does,” Edwards said of Sykes. “If I’m going off, and he’s going off, it benefits the team.”
The brothers know that every game for the rest of this season could be their last together, marking the end of a football partnership that began at the youth level and has been fueled by intense competition — mostly with opponents but occasionally with each other.
“He pushes me. I push him,” Sykes said. “It’s brother competition, but it’s all love.”