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Globe South Sports

Summer with the boys of November

Football-playing Thellen brothers focus on NU/UMass clash

Northeastern sophomore safety Nate Thellen (above) returned his third interception of the game for a 92-yard touchdown last season against the University of California-Davis. This season Nate (far left) and his younger brother, Darren, a defensive back at UMass-Amherst, will square off Nov. 7, when their two school teams clash at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. Northeastern sophomore safety Nate Thellen (above) returned his third interception of the game for a 92-yard touchdown last season against the University of California-Davis. This season Nate (far left) and his younger brother, Darren, a defensive back at UMass-Amherst, will square off Nov. 7, when their two school teams clash at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. (Photos By Jay Connors for The Boston Globe/File 2008; Umass (Near Left))
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / July 19, 2009
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It may be the summer, but the Thellen brothers of Brockton, Nate and Darren, can’t stop talking about football.

Nate will be a junior at Northeastern this fall while Darren is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but a freshman on the playing field.

The two defensive backs have circled Saturday, Nov. 7 on their calendars, the date that the Colonial Athletic Association rivals will square off at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.

Throughout the summer, neither has missed a chance to playfully brag about how his team will win. Competition is just part of their relationship. Football, video games, or any other situation that can determine a winner and loser bring out the best in the brothers, who were born about 17 months apart.

But this summer, they are working together to make the other stronger. They returned to their Brockton home and set up workouts. Four days a week they meet at a local gym to lift weights for an hour. Other days they run sprints at Brockton High, where they were part of the 13-0 season in 2005.

There is plenty for the brothers to prepare for this season.

A 6-foot-2, 208-pound free safety, Nate was selected to the Sports Network Preseason All-America second team last week, one of 20 CAA players to be picked.

Meanwhile, Darren is looking forward to his first official season after his redshirt season a year ago while the Minutemen went 7-5.

Nate led the Huskies in interceptions (5) and was fourth in tackles with 58 last season. He pulled down weekly honors, including SNN Defensive Player of the Week after collecting three interceptions and returning one 92 yards for a touchdown against UC Davis.

“It’s a big honor for me,’’ said Nate of the preseason All-America recognition. “Every time I look at it I smile. It shows how hard I’ve been working. But now I want to be chosen for what I do after the season. It’s like now I have higher expectations. I have to have a great season this year, and I want my team to have a great season.’’

In the last two years, the Huskies have sputtered to a 5-18 record.

“It’s been tough because we lost a lot of close games over the last couple of years,’’ Nate said. “Things just haven’t been rolling our way. . . . ’’

In order to have a stronger season, the elder Thellen said he has continued his workout regimen, but also watched last season’s games and studied the playbook more.

“We know we’re good,’’ Nate said. “We don’t get upset at anyone else but ourselves. We know we can play better.’’

He ended his senior season at Brockton as part of the team’s undefeated run that led to a Super Bowl championship.

When Nate was faced with selecting a college, he said Northeastern had it all.

“It seemed like a perfect fit for me,’’ Nate said. “It was close to home but in a city environment. . . . I wanted to be close to my family, and they had a good football program.’’

What would have made Nate’s selection even better would have been if Darren joined him last season. While Darren considered the Huskies, after years as his brother’s backup on the football field, Darren said he needed to create his own path.

“At first, I thought I should have played with him, but I think I was better off coming to UMass and trying to make a name for myself,’’ said Darren, a 6-2, 195-pound free safety who is slated to back up All-American Jeremy Miles.

“It was tough because I was always known as his younger brother, but it motivated me to work harder and try to do what he has done.’’

Darren had a chance to see a couple of his older brother’s games last season and calls it a unique situation after being on the same side for so many years.

“You want to cheer for him, but at the same time, I don’t want to see his team win,’’ Darren said. “I feel bad for my parents. They don’t know who to really cheer for.’’

Nate calls Darren his “best friend’’ and wants him to have a great year. Nate also redshirted his freshman year and was able to offer Darren advice about how to take advantage of the situation.

“I let him know what he was getting into,’’ Nate said. “I didn’t really have anybody to do that for me, and it was rough my freshman year. You have to have time management. Sometimes you write a paper all night and then you have to wake up for a meeting, then you’re in class, and then you’re going to practice. You have to be prepared.’’

Nate may want his team to win the Nov. 7 matchup, but he also wants to see his brother succeed.

“I definitely want to see him on the field,’’ Nate said. “Growing up, we were always on the same team. This is the first year, really, that we’re going to be enemies for a game.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.