- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Mondays are for the film room, where Matt Rochell scouts the defensive linemen he will be tasked with protecting his quarterback from five days later. Notre Dame, which boasts two likely first-round picks on its defensive front, is loaded in that department, so the Air Force left tackle was extra attentive this week.
Then Rochell saw a familiar 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder sub in for a play against USC, momentarily freezing his focus.
"That was weird," Rochell laughed of the prospect of seeing No. 90 on the big screen.
Matt Rochell was watching Isaac Rochell, his younger brother. The two played together at Eagles Landing Christian Academy (Ga.), but rarely were pitted against each other in practice. Saturday's meeting between the Irish and the Falcons will mark the first chance for that to happen, with the sophomore Matt in his first year of starting and the freshman Isaac seeing some time in every game so far as a reserve end.
"We're pretty close," Isaac said. "I talk to him all the time, as much as I can. I talk to him after every game, he talks to me after every one of his games and before, so we're pretty close."
That has not changed this week, with Matt saying that there is no vow of silence. Isaac kicked things off Monday by sending Matt a picture of the "Beat Air Force" countdown clock from the Irish's locker room. The players, who have no other siblings, are expecting a large contingent this week to fly into Colorado Springs, Colo., including parents, grandparents and uncles.
The brothers became aware of the potential opportunity during Isaac's official visit to Notre Dame in January, long after he had already committed, though it seemed so far off in the distance that neither gave it much thought.
It is not much of a typical sibling rivalry, Matt insists, as they never fought much growing up.
"I just tried to make good decisions, because I saw friends with older brothers who made bad decisions and your little brother watches that and he might make that bad decision earlier and he might start in a different trajectory," Matt said. "But really it was more of a friendship than like big brother-little brother. Maybe he'd say something different, but I just thought of us as more friends. I just tried to make good decisions, but it always seemed like we were just friends instead of me being some type of older role model-type guy."
The closest they came to squaring off was during Isaac's sophomore year of high school, with interest from college coaches already coming in hot and heavy. Then, the staff pitted the siblings against each other in a board drill for visiting coaches from UCF.
Still, Isaac, at least, could hardly muster a serious game-face.
"Coaches were sitting there filming it, but he just said he remembers looking at me and I was like really serious, and he was like, 'Man, are you OK?' " Matt said. "Because you're the big brother, you're just like, I can't lose. Whereas he's just like, It doesn't really matter -- a win-win type of thing."
The pressure has risen considerably for Isaac since, with the rookie adding 20 pounds after arriving to campus this summer and seeing more and more opportunities open with each hit to the Irish's defensive line. He most recently saw extended action in three straight games before starting end Sheldon Day fully returned from a sprained ankle this past Saturday, though he has tried not to look at this campaign as an easing-in exercise behind a line that includes All-Americans Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
"I don't think it's as much that as it is like you're behind a guy that's really super good," Isaac said. "So you're just like seeing them work and seeing how they handle different situations in the game as far as different blocks you'll get and stuff. You really get a good idea of how you need to attack that particular situation. So I think that's the main thing. I don't think easing into the situation is anything I've really thought about. I just think the main thing is learning from them and learning from their accomplishments and what they're doing."
All in the hopes of getting on the field and making plays, which could present a different kind of challenge come Saturday with so many familiar, confused faces in the crowd.
"It has to be weird watching both your kids on the same field and then maybe even play against each other," Matt said. "That's like a dad's dream, so my dad's really loving it. Just the fact that we're going to be on same field is kind of a huge deal. I don't know, my mom might be emotional. It's exciting for them though. If my kids did that I would be just ecstatic."