Mychal Kendricks, 17 months older and also a linebacker, is considered a rising star for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
The brothers have always been close in a way that brothers are.
"When they were younger, I was awakened one night by yelling," Yvonne Thagon, their mother, recalls. "I went down the hall to their room and there was Eric on the ground with Mychal standing over him, fist raised."
She reacted … like a linebacker.
"I tackled him," Thagon says.
Running backs who have run into the Kendricks brothers now know who to thank for the pain and punishment.
There has never been a problem the Kendricks couldn't tackle. As Mychal Kendricks puts it, "there was no excuse for failure."
Thagon, a single mother, raised her two rambunctious boys and a younger daughter while navigating tough times in Fresno. Marvin Kendricks, father of the children, descended into crack cocaine addiction and the couple split.
Yet, the boys are both college graduates — Mychal from
Eric Kendricks says he is a product of the experiences of all his family members. "I learned from their mistakes. I learned from their triumphs," he says. "It helped make me who I am."
Eric Kendricks points to his left cheek. "You see this little scar below my eye?" he says. "Mychal. He threw something at me. I got another one on the back of my head. He pushed me down on the road."
The counter point, from Mychal: "Eric knocked out my front teeth … twice. He took a rock and beaned me. He did the same thing a couple years later. He had a great arm, real pinpoint accuracy."
Thagon made them carry insurance cards with them from the time they were in elementary school.
"They were like little puppy dogs," Thagon says. "Every day was an adventure."
Eric Kendricks enters UCLA's game against Kansas State on Friday in the
FOR THE RECORD
Dec. 31, 7:31 a.m.: The name of the IMPACT Trophy is Lott, not Barr.
Kendricks is projected to go as high as the second round in the
"When I was in high school and I had a brother playing in college, it helped," Eric Kendricks said. "Now it helps just as much having him in the NFL. He has walked me through every step of the way."
Marvin Kendricks is still apologizing.
"Through the grace of God, I was able to come out of it," he says of his addiction. "For what my kids went through, I am sorry. I wouldn't want anyone to go through that."
Kendricks was UCLA's leading rusher in 1970 and 1971. But then he lost his grandmother, the driving influence in his life, and receded into addiction.
"I would take my kids with me to drug houses," says Kendricks, a retired counselor. "I have cried so many nights about those mistakes."
Thagon held the family together. Money was tight and logistics were difficult.
"It was a struggle, raising three children on my own without support from the other parent," Thagon says. "Not just financial support, but things like picking up and dropping off. Sometimes you would have to say no to one [child] to say yes to the other."
Thagon recalls that when Mychal was in junior high school, he had a soccer tournament in Sacramento that began at 5 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. He then had to be back in Fresno for a dance performance by 7 p.m. The entire family spent a long day together — it was a house rule.
"You never left anyone behind," says Thagon, a hospital supervisor. "We had a plan every day. If the plan didn't work, we had a Plan B."
Mychal Kendricks admits he was a little wild as a child. But as he got older, he realized he was a role model for his younger brother so he modified his behavior.
"I used to leave the house without telling anyone and go all around town," Mychal says. "I'd come home and Mom would be, 'Where have you been? I've been worried sick.' Eric started doing the same things. That was a wakeup call for me."
Eric took the cue. He began watching over his sister.
When Eric was a senior at Fresno Hoover High, Danielle was a freshman. One day, he heard her name being bandied about the locker room.
"I had to make an example of someone," Eric recalls. "There wasn't a fight. Let's just say I kind of roughed some people up. I didn't have any problems the rest of the year."
Marvin Kendricks cleaned himself up when Mychal started high school. He married, threw himself into his job, and worked things out with Thagon to become a part of his children's lives.
"It wasn't easy, but I looked myself in the mirror one day and asked God to take that craving away," Marvin says.
It took time before he could talk to his sons about his addiction, but his actions said a lot.
"We're past all that," Eric says. "Dad made a resilient effort to get back in our lives. He came to games, started coming over to our house for dinner. He was rebuilding. I talk with him every day."
Eric grew up mimicking what Mychal did.
Football, therefore, was inevitable. Mychal first played as an eighth-grader and his younger brother, then in sixth grade, immediately wanted in.
Both played at Fresno Hoover and were teammates in 2007. Mychal earned a scholarship to Cal and was chosen the Pac-12 Conference defensive player of the year in 2011.
"As much as I want to be my own person, I can't help but look up to my brother," Eric says. "I didn't know if I wanted to play football after my freshman year. Football is hard. When I saw my brother get noticed and get some college offers for playing the sport he loved, I thought this could happen to me too."
There are comparisons, even within the family.
"Mychal hits harder, but Eric tackles like it is a science," Marvin says.
The Kendricks brothers played on opposing sides once in college, a 31-14 UCLA victory in 2011.
Marvin had a heart attack while watching from his seat at the
True to his UCLA roots, he says he told first responders "to take me to UCLA Medical Center or else I was going to get out and walk."
Kendricks recovered and saw his oldest son drafted by the Eagles the next spring. Now his second son awaits his own draft-day moment.
"A lot of times in our lives there were changes with me and we would be separated for a while," Mychal says. "Then Eric would catch up.