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Program Spotlight: McPhearson's Bonded in Brotherhood

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When sophomore cornerback Zech McPhearson committed to Penn State, his mother, Kim, cried.

It was April 18, 2015 and McPhearson and his parents were in Happy Valley visiting older brother, Josh, then a sophomore on the team, for Penn State's annual Blue-White game in Beaver Stadium.

Making his way back to his bedroom that afternoon, Josh paused at the sight of a single tweet appearing on the screen of his phone. Class of 2016 defensive back Zech McPhearson has committed to Penn State.

"I didn't really know for sure what his decision was going to be, but I told him to do his best," Josh said. "It felt good though to know that I was going to be playing with my brother and that he was going to be a part of Penn State Football with me."

There are eight children in the McPhearson family.

"Zech is the youngest boy and my mom has seen all her sons go to college, so it was it was a special moment for her, but she cries even when we leave home to come back to Penn State, so I was expecting it," Josh said with a wide smile. 

Eldest brother, Gerrick Jr., played football at Maryland and was a 2006 NFL Draft pick in the seventh round by the New York Giants. Then there's Derrick, who played football at Illinois, and next in line is Emmanuel, who played football at New Mexico. Then there's Jeremiah, who played football at Indiana (Pa.), followed by Josh, a now senior running back at Penn State, Matthew, who was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2013, and then there's Zech. Although Zech is the youngest of seven boys, sister, Kimberly, is the youngest of the eight. She is set to play soccer at the Division I level in January.

For Zech, Penn State had always been a top choice. With a longstanding family relationship dating back to Penn State head coach James Franklin's tenure at Maryland with Gerrick Jr. on the team, even before Josh arrived, Penn State was on his mind. 

"My first memory of Coach Franklin, was at a testing day at Maryland when they ran the 40 and I don't remember it clearly, but he remembers it, it was all my brothers, we all hopped out of this Yukon, there were like six of us, and he just started busting up laughing because there was a bunch of us hopping out of the car to go watch my brother run the 40," Zech said. 

Despite none of the McPhearson brothers ever playing on the same collegiate football team together, Josh was adamant on letting Zech make his own decision, even though the idea was always something he knew would make his parents, Kim and Gerrick Sr., proud.

"Josh wanted me to explore a little and see other things I liked and I did that, talked to some players at other schools and I just really didn't have the same feel as I had at Penn State," Zech said. 

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Four years older than Zech, for Josh, there wasn't always time for brotherly bonding growing up. 

Per Christmas tradition, when the McPhearson brothers would outfit themselves in plastic helmets and shoulder pads from toy stores with NFL jerseys pulled on over top, Josh recalls Zech watching one of the year's biggest games from the windows, too small to join.

The older McPhearson brothers would let him join in for a backyard outing from time to time, where Josh recalls giving Zech the ball with the whole family cheering as he ran past his brothers with ease. 

"We couldn't really tackle him because he was so small, he would cry if we hit him," Josh said with a laugh.

Together, Josh and his other five brothers would often speculate on the type of individual their youngest brother would grow up to be. 

"It's really cool to see him in practice sometimes when I'm standing on the field," Josh said. "It's really cool to see his development. Me and my brothers would always ask each other how he would be when he got older because growing up he was spoiled because he was my mom's last boy. It's really cool when you have a family member on the team with you because you can really see where that person was and where they are now, and it's a good feeling."

When Zech arrived on campus he can recall calling Josh often even for the smallest of things. From campus tours and visits to drop off medicine when his youngest brother wasn't feeling well, Josh was also there when times got tough on the field.

"My first training camp, it was tough," Zech said. "One practice, I was not in the mood to go out there. I was really sick, I did not want to go out to practice."

So Josh marched over to Nittany Hall before practice to find Zech in his room.

"He came to talk to me and told me that this is my time, that I have to go out there and prove what I have and it really got me motivated to get up and go out there to practice," Zech said. 

For Josh, it's simply what his older brothers had done for him growing up - what family does for each other. 

"I had older brothers before me who always set the example for me, so I took it upon myself to be there for him and be able to give him what he needs and give him a helping hand in whatever he needs me to be there for," Josh said.

As Josh recounts, it's his older brothers who taught him to do things the right way the first time, so nobody has to tell you anything.

"I remember my older brother saying those words to me when I was doing dishes, he would tell me to do the right thing so mom and dad don't have to tell you anything," Josh said. "That's what I try to do with Zech, I try to do what's right and lead by example so he won't have any questions to ask, he will just look at my actions and that will be all he really needs." 

It's now those actions that define Josh's work ethic, something Zech leans on the most. 

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"His work ethic is what I try to model my craft after," Zech said. "His work ethic is pretty unbelievable. I'm pretty sure anybody in the program would say that. I feel like that helped me this upcoming camp to really work hard and go get a spot on the depth chart."

While Zech is close with all his brothers, it's Josh who he says is the funniest, the one he goes to when he's in need of a good laugh.

For Josh, his relationship with Zech is different because he's the youngest brother - but also the brother that he says is actually the funniest.

About the same height and only about 15 pounds different in weight, Zech describes himself as a more mellow, laid back guy, unlike Josh of course.

"Josh is always bringing the juice wherever he goes," Zech said. "In the locker room he's always hyped up, always the loud one getting everybody hyped up." 

While Josh would agree, he still insists that although Zech is quiet and reserved, he knows truly who his brother is and together, it's the bond they share that's truly unique.

"It's really special because we came from the same struggle," Josh said. "He knows what our family went through, all of the hard times and the good times and there's a lot joy in knowing that we're at the same place. We put in the same amount of work and same amount of time working on our craft, so it's great to be at the same midpoint in our lives."

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