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Twice In A Lifetime?

LSU's Craig Steltz might follow his brother, Kevin, as a BCS champion

January 06, 2008|Randall Mell | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

NEW ORLEANS -- Move over, Peyton and Eli.

For one night at least, the Mannings might not be the most celebrated football brothers this city has produced.

Louisiana State safety Craig Steltz is aiming to follow in his brother's footsteps Monday in a magical feat the gifted Manning boys never got to enjoy.

Steltz will be in his hometown looking to lead the No. 2 Tigers to victory against No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS national championship. He was there in the Superdome cheering four years ago when his brother, Kevin, helped the Tigers claim the national title by beating Oklahoma.

"People said watching our first son win the national championship in our hometown was a once-in-a-lifetime deal," said father Keith Steltz.

"Hopefully, it's going to be a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. It's just a phenomenal deal for our entire family."

The emotions are heightened because their hometown means so much more to them since Hurricane Katrina nearly swept it away more than two years ago. The brothers grew up in Metairie on the northeastern edge of the city, near Lake Pontchartrain. Their neighborhood was flooded after the levees broke, but the water didn't get much higher than a foot there.

"I love New Orleans," Craig said. "Just about our whole family lives on the same street. My aunt and uncle live two houses down from us, and my grandparents lived farther down the street.

"We were all out of New Orleans when Katrina hit. We were all safe, but it was nerve-racking being away and not knowing what was happening to our neighborhood."

Keith and his wife, Linda, stayed with their sons in Baton Rouge when Katrina hit. The day after the levees broke, Keith returned home by himself. Police stopped his car at the outskirts of the city, so he waded a mile and a half through a foot of water to check his home and those of other family members.

"I know New Orleans like the back of my hand," said Keith, a construction supervisor. "It's terrible what happened to it, but we were lucky in our neighborhood. We didn't have nearly the damage other parts of the city had."

Craig, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound senior, was a first-team Walter Camp Foundation All-American this season and finalist for the Thorpe Award.

His rush onto the Superdome turf at the start of Monday's championship may be the most emotional moment of his career. He knows what his brother will feel watching from the stands with his parents.

And his brother will know what he's feeling when he runs out of the tunnel from the locker room.

Kevin, three years older than Craig, was a fullback on LSU's national championship team four years ago. He works in medical sales in New Orleans today. The brothers are very close after surviving a classic sibling rivalry growing up.

"They were typical brothers, very, very competitive," Keith said.

"They had their battles, for sure. When one did something, the other had to try to outdo him."

Craig is tall and lanky for a safety, but he's strong and fast. Kevin was shorter and stockier. With his long blond hair, Craig looks more like a surfer dude than a football player when he takes his helmet off. Kevin will testify, though, to his brother's toughness.

"I take total responsibility for that," Kevin said. "We had some fistfights growing up." Craig will vouch for his older brother's ability to take a punch.

When Kevin was 12, the two of them got into an argument while swimming in a pool during a vacation in Destin, Fla. Craig got so angry, he punched his brother in the face.

"And he broke his hand," Kevin said. "I don't know why we were fighting. Usually, it wasn't about anything. We were just fighting."

That changed in high school, Kevin said.

Their relationship strengthened when his baby brother joined him as a freshman at Archbishop Rummel High.

"Nobody could touch him but me," Kevin said.

Craig is thankful his brother was there to show him the way in life, and he's grateful the journey will take him back to the Superdome.

"We're so proud," Linda said.

"Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it's all real."

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