COLUMBIA, S.C. - They were brothers in black and gold at Thomson High School, brothers in red and black at Georgia Military College and now brothers in garnet and black at the University of South Carolina.
But Casper and Jasper Brinkley are not playing on the same football field this year. A severe knee injury has cut short Jasper's senior season, leaving his brother Casper to fend off offenses in the University of South Carolina's defensive backfield.
It's the first time in years that the Brothers Brinkley haven't been on the same field at game time. And it's emotional for both of them.
"He's my heart," Casper said of Jasper. "He feels the same way about me. We're very close. Sure, I was down when he got hurt, but the injury isn't as bad as it could have been. An ACL injury is worse than an MCL injury. I fully believe that Jasper is going to be alright and I know that he's going to recover and be 100 percent - maybe even better."
Casper knows what it's like to be sidelined with an injury. During his junior year at Thomson High School, he suffered a bad ankle injury against Statesboro and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season. He was playing defensive end at the time for Thomson Defensive Coordinator John Barnett.
"That was a real bad time for me, so I understand a little of what my brother is going through," said Casper.
Highs and lows
Jasper had demonstrated his worthiness to the Gamecock Nation when he made a key interception that thwarted a late comeback by the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens - a game that the Gamecocks went on to win.
Just when everything seemed to be going so good for the twin duo, fate dealt them a crushing blow. Their lives - especially that of Jasper - took a tumble when Jasper was told that a knee injury suffered against LSU would keep him out the remainder of the season. The injury required surgery and now instead of being one of the more fierce defensive linebackers for the Gamecocks, he walks around on crutches, waiting to heal.
He had been looking so forward to at least equaling or toppling what he had managed to accomplish on the gridiron at South Carolina a year ago. As a junior, Jasper recorded a team-high 107 tackles - 85 of them solo version - that figure being the second highest in school history.
"I'm handling it as well as I can," said Jasper during a recent interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "I'm in a lot of pain sometimes, but I've got medicine to try and help with that."
He explained that he is relying on the strength of God to see him through this setback.
"I take this like God is going to provide a plan that will see me through this adversity," said Jasper.
Already, he has received some encouraging news about his injury. Doctors have determined that it wasn't as bad as first thought.
"They said it could have been a lot worse," said Jasper.
For the future
For Jasper, the rest of the season will give him time to ruminate on an important decision. The NCAA recently granted his request to red-shirt this season for medical reasons, giving him another year of eligibility at the University of South Carolina.
But the lure of the NFL is strong, especially for a young man from a small town who had long dreamed of suiting up professionally.
"I'm just going to hang tight and see what the best route is to take," Jasper said in regards to what the future might hold. "I just want to do what the doctors tell me to do right now and heal up the way I need to before getting back onto the field."
Meanwhile, Casper -who this season has been moved to a linebacker position after having played defensive end his junior year - has become one of the Gamecocks' most versatile defensive players. He's averaging nearly five solo tackles a game. He kept that average up despite the Gamecocks 17-6 upset loss to Vanderbilt's Commodores last Saturday at Williams Brice Stadium.
Prior to the upset, South Carolina had been ranked the No. 6 team in the nation.
Casper says his greatest memory thus far at the University of South Carolina was when they defeated the Georgia Bulldogs earlier this season in Athens.
"Beating the Georgia Bulldogs is definitely the highlight of my two years at South Carolina," said Casper. "It was real big, because it gave us bragging rights for a whole year. Me and Jasper even got a chance to rub it in a little on Danny - a little pay back for the way he got us last year."
Casper was speaking of Danny Verdun Wheeler, a former teammate and close friend of the Brinkley twins when they played together at THS.
The win brought an extra satisfaction to the Brinkleys: It was the Georgia Bulldogs that had a chance to get the Brinkley twins after they departed Georgia Military College. However, coaches there were interested in just one of them - not both.
Coach Ray Lamb, director of high school relations at the University of Georgia, recently was guest speaker at the Thomson Rotary Club and openly said that coaches wished they had taken the Brinkley twins.
"Those guys are the real thing when it comes to the word 'defense,'" said Coach Lamb.
Despite a couple of losses in the SEC this season, Casper still believes that South Carolina can turn in one of their most successful seasons in school history.
"We're in the hunt with everybody that we play," said Casper. "This is a real special group. We work hard and give it our maximum effort every game. If we continue to play like that, there's no telling where we could end up."