Twins Devin and Jason McCourty have done just about everything together since the day they were born, August 13, 1987. As children, the two played on the same sports teams and had the same group of friends. Later, each made the decision to stay close to home by attending Rutgers, the only college that offered them both scholarships.
"Always, since they came home from the hospital," mother Phyllis Harrell said about her sons being together. "One slept at one end of the crib and the other one slept at the other end of the crib. They've always done everything together. If they were playing basketball, they were both playing basketball. Same thing with football and even hanging out with friends."
While the brothers took slightly different paths after college – they made the leap to the NFL one year apart and landed on different teams, Devin in New England and Jason in Tennessee – they have remained united, personally and publically, branding themselves as the McCourty Twins through social media and in their efforts to give back to the community.
"All along we knew that's what we wanted to do," Devin explained. "I think we're both at our best when we're together doing things. We feed off each other so well...and I think everyone gets more out of it when we're just back and forth, whether it's being competitive or it's supporting each other."
In 2013, the two partnered to establish the Tackle Sickle Cell campaign, which raises awareness and funds for the fight against a disease that has affected their own family. Their efforts don't end there, though. They also host a kids' football skills camp in their hometown of Nyack, N.Y., each summer, and are ambassadors for the United Way of America and the NFL's Fuel Up to Play 60 program promoting healthy lifestyles for children.
Thanks to these initiatives and community service efforts with their teams, Devin and Jason were named the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year for the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, respectively. The accolade recognizes players for their excellence on and off the field, with each team selecting one recipient and the league choosing an overall winner, who will be revealed in Arizona on January 31.
Continuing their tradition of sticking together, Devin and Jason not only won their team awards at the same time, but also had similar responses to the honor: they both gave credit to their mother, Phyllis.
"Our mom kind of raised us to be a certain way," Jason told the media in Tennessee when presented with the award.
Likewise, Devin deflected the praise, saying, "It should be her name under Tennessee and New England."
He later explained, "As far as the community stuff, she always had us involved in different things. She used to tell us how important it was to do different things to give back, because when you have a lot of things, a lot is expected of you. I think we just took that and ran with it, especially once we got to college and had opportunities to give back."
Phyllis admits she did try to stress the idea that "if much is given, much as expected." Looking back now, though, it's not easy for her to pinpoint exactly what it was that transformed her twin boys into two of the most highly regarded men in the NFL today.
Devin and Jason McCourty
"It makes me feel good that they give me that credit," she said, "but I only did what I knew to do in raising them. You don't think twice; you just always do what you think is best for them."
In her case, that meant being very present in her sons' lives and "very strict" about things like getting good grades and household chores. Phyllis, whose husband passed away when the twins were just three years old, also seems to have led by example, dedicating herself to helping others as a nurse. All three of her sons have followed her lead in some way or another, with Devin and Jason's community involvement and eldest son Larry's career in the Army.
"From high school I always wanted to be a nurse," she recalled. "I like caring for people, doing for people. I don't know if somewhere along the line I embedded that in my children. I guess it might be something that's just in our DNA, because I've just always liked doing for folks."
While Phyllis, affectionately known as Mama McCourty, has retired, she does participate in her sons' community projects whenever possible. Last month, she joined Jason as he helped deliver books to children in the Nashville community, and in October she was by Devin's side at his Casino Night fundraiser for Tackle Sickle Cell. She also regularly stops by the twins' blood drives and always makes an appearance at their summer camp in New York.
"Anything they're doing in the community that I can get involved in, I do," she explained.
Through their work on and off the football field, Phyllis has seen her sons become positive role models and earn the respect of many people around the country. And although she's the one whom they credit for that, she insists the admiration is mutual.
"When I look at them, I'm very proud that they turned out to be the people they are," she said. "I know I raised them, but I feel sometimes that their hearts are bigger than mine. Sometimes I just look at them and I get that feeling."