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'He's Like A Little Brother To Me'

Posted Apr 27, 2015

The NFL is a brotherhood, but few have a relationship like the one Ryan Mathews and Seyi Ajirotutu share. Teammates at Fresno State, then in San Diego with the Chargers, they are together again as Philadelphia Eagles. "It's a blessing," says Mathews ...

The NFL is a brotherhood, but few have a relationship like the one Ryan Mathews and Seyi Ajirotutu share. Teammates at Fresno State, then in San Diego with the Chargers, they are together again as Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's a blessing," says Mathews. "We hang out, do everything together. When I signed here, I was, like, 'Tu, you gotta come here.' "

And 'Tu,' Ajirotutu, did just that, keeping together the longest-running "best-friend" tandem in the NFL.

"He told me to come here, and it was a no brainer," Ajirotutu said. "'Come here and let’s do something special together.' We’ve been teammates for a long time and we’ve jelled and we do everything together. I look at him like he’s my little brother, by only four months, but I love the guy, love him to death, and for us to be here, to go from the West Coast to the East Coast together, it’s definitely good.

"We lift each other up. We’re each other’s toughest critics and we’re a team together."

The two were fast friends at Fresno State long before the idea of being NFL teammates together happened. Ajirotutu was the senior and Mathews the junior and they both took aim at the league and started rooming together as they prepared for the NFL Combine. San Diego, it turned out, traded up in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft to select Mathews. Ajirotutu wasn't selected. Both had the same agent, who thought the Chargers would be a good fit for Ajirotutu.

And since then, with the exception of the 2011 season when Ajirotutu played for the Carolina Panthers, the two have been together. Inseparable. They are friends and competitors and best friends forever. Mathews was Ajirotutu's best man at his wedding, and Ajirotutu will move in with Mathews until Ajirotutu's wife and two daughters move to Philadelphia in the summer.

As the new players learn about being Eagles and seek out the culture of the city and its surroundings, they will do so together.

“It’s great. He’s family," Mathews said. "I tell him everything and he tells me everything. We do everything together. It’s good to come into a situation like this, something that’s new, and have Seyi here to share it with. It’s kind of like comfort. I don’t really know anybody yet, but I know Seyi and from there we make new friends and branch out. It’s been a great time knowing him, getting to know his family, seeing his two beautiful daughters being born and growing up. I am part of his family and he’s part of mine.”

They met at Fresno State, Mathews the product of a difficult childhood during which he was raised by a single mother who battled a drug addiction. Mathews lived, for months, in the backseat of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and ate at a soup kitchen and had no stability. Ajirotutu's roots are in Nigeria, where his father, Leke, was born. Leke was an electrical engineer and raised Seyi in Sacramento.

While they trained for the Combine and lived together, Mathews and Ajirotutu became more than friends. "That's when we became brothers," Mathews said. "We were chasing the same dream and pushing each other at the same time. Since then, we've been that tight."

They compete at everything. Ajirotutu is the undisputed king of sports video games, while Mathews has the upper hand at things like Call of Duty. Ajirotutu says he is the better of the two playing pool. Both push each other to exhaustion in the weight room as they compete in every phase.

“We’re always competing and it doesn’t matter what we’re doing," Mathews said. "I’m better in video games, except the sports games. I can’t play sports games to save my life. I stopped playing Madden Football three years ago after my brother just beat me badly. Tu kills me in FIFA – so far he’s undefeated; he’s a master at that – and so when I play him in video games it’s Call of Duty or something like that.

"If we’re doing push-ups here or how long we can hold the plates when we’re lifting, we’re competing against each other. I want to be better than him and he wants to be better than me. It’s the little things. It’s fun, but it’s also competition and we thrive on competition.”

Now they're in Philadelphia as Eagles learning a new system on the field and a new way of doing things off the field. They want to make something special happen for the Eagles -- together, of course.

"Coming to Philadelphia was something that was very important to me. I was excited about it when my agent mentioned it to me," Mathews said. "I knew about the offense and the chances I would have here with DeMarco (Murray) and Darren (Sproles) in the backfield. Those are two guys I can learn a lot from. That and knowing what Chip Kelly intends to do and with the sports science program to the lifting and conditioning and the plays we run, I was definitely excited about being an Eagle. Being part of this offense is going to be great.

"Once I signed, I said to Tu, ‘Try to go to Philly. Try to go to Philly.’ He was hesitant at first because he was still waiting for San Diego, and then I told him how wonderful the facilities were and how everything worked and I think I kind of sold him on it. He ended up taking a trip here and signing, so it’s a blessing that it’s worked out as it has."

The day continues and there go Mathews and Ajirotutu into the strength and conditioning room, to the cafeteria, and back into the locker room. Always together. Always talking. Always laughing. Best friends, on and off the field. An entire NFL life shared, with many more great times ahead.

Does it get any better than this?

"I'm excited about everything here," Ajirotutu said. "It's a whole new experience that I get to enjoy and share with my best friend, my little brother. Coming to Philadelphia couldn't have worked out any better than it did. This is going to be a lot of fun."

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