As Marken Michel has been clawing to create a football career of his own, he watched as his younger brother went to a college powerhouse, got drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and then became a Super Bowl champion as a rookie.
That would make a lot of guys jealous.
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"There's never been a bone of jealousy in that relationship at all," said Allen Pinder, a close family friend whom Marken and Sony Michel consider an older brother.
While Sony has found fast success in the NFL, his older brother (by about year and a half) has taken a more circuitous route.
Marken Michel, 25, went undrafted out of UMass in 2016, spent that summer with the Vikings and then went to the Canadian Football League for the past couple seasons before joining the Eagles in January.
After an impressive offseason, Sony's older brother might finally have his own chance to stick in the NFL.
At the end of the day, I said this my first year when I came out of college," Marken said last week, "one of us is going to put that last name on an NFL jersey. Whether it's me or him or both of us. He knows I'm super proud of him. I'm always there with him every step of the way. I'm always going to root for him.
While Marken is a receiver now, he was a quarterback until his junior year of high school. Sony, of course, was the running back, who played varsity football as an eighth-grader. Pinder, 37, doesn't think that would have happened without older bro watching out for him.
In fact, Pinder thinks a lot of Sony's football success can be directly attributed to Marken.
"Marken pushed Sony and Sony wanted to be like Marken," Pinder said in a phone call last week to NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Marken started off with more success than Sony did and it has kind of driven Sony to be like, ‘I need to get where Marken's at.' Marken always fueled Sony. ‘I need to work harder, I need to be better.'"
As you might imagine between two athletic brothers who are a year and a half apart, there was a constant competition between them as they grew up in Florida. They competed in everything. Football, baseball, basketball.
Marken said they used to have 3-point shootouts at their childhood park. He was asked who is ahead in the all-time tally and he didn't hesitate.
"Me," he said. "Of course."
Would Sony corroborate that?
"He better, or he'll be lying."
The two are wildly competitive but are also best friends. When they talk, it's rarely about football. But, of course, when Sony played in Super Bowl LIII in February, Marken was there rooting for him. Marken said that Sony knows when he's watching him play, he better not mess up.
Sony's Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, 13-3, over the Rams. Sony had 18 carries for 94 yards and scored the game's only touchdown.
"He knew it," Marken said. "He knew if he didn't, I would be on him."
North of the border
After things didn't work out for Michel in Minnesota, where Pinder thinks he wasn't really given a great opportunity, he ended up with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. He was the CFL West Division Rookie of the Year in 2017 and was a part of the Grey Cup-winning team in 2018, although he missed the end of the season with a broken scapula.
He was bummed to miss the Grey Cup in November but was thrilled his team won. Since he was in OTAs in May, he and linebacker Alex Singleton (who is also on the Eagles' roster) missed the ring ceremony. Singleton was heading north for the Stampeders first game of the season this past weekend and Michel gave him the job of bringing his ring back to him.
In two years in the CFL, Michel made a name for himself, catching 72 passes for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns. He had so much success, it wasn't easy to leave.
"I kind of felt like I had a good situation up there in Canada," Michel said.
Back to the NFL
Michel didn't tell anyone when he signed with the Eagles. His family - Sony and Pinder, included - found out when the Eagles announced it on Twitter.
Pinder said he knew Michel had a couple workouts, but he didn't know how they went. When confronted by his brother via text, Michel simply texted back a smiling emoji.
"I'm real low key," Michel said. "I don't like the spotlight."
But he found it this spring. Michel has emerged as a real contender to steal one of the final roster spots at receiver for the Eagles. In the absence of a few starters at OTAs and minicamp, Michel even got some first-team reps and worked well with Carson Wentz.
If things don't pan out with the Eagles, Michel could probably go back to Canada and resume what was already a promising career, but he's trying not to think about that or anything aside from giving this chance everything he has.
But he is well aware the Eagles play the Patriots this season. If he makes the team, little brother will be waiting.
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