Their dream has already come true. For Nic and Chris Clemons to be together with the Washington Redskins earning six-figure salaries playing football and not working at the mill, unemployed or in jail, is more than they or their mother could have imagined, even if Chris is never more than a reserve linebacker and Nic never makes the active roster on game day.
But wouldn't it be something if somehow, this weekend, the brothers find their way onto the field at the same time when the Redskins take on the San Francisco 49ers with their mother, Mattie Clemons, sitting in the FedEx Field stands?
As their mother flew here yesterday, the brothers could not help contemplate the possibility. Chris, 23, is shining on special teams and has played ahead of three-time Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington. Nic, 25, who impresses coaches with his steady development, might be ready for his first appearance in an NFL game because three defensive linemen are injured.
After spending many nights with just enough to eat, with no electricity or hot water, in their home in Griffin, Ga., just getting to Washington was an accomplishment for the Clemons brothers. Neither had a full college career -- Nic did not play organized football until he was in junior college -- or was drafted.
Now they are jockeying for playing time, with seemingly the entire Redskins organization rooting for them to make it.
"He's one of those American success stories, and that's why I hope his career will end way at the top," defensive line coach Greg Blache said of Nic Clemons.
"He's the kind of kid I'd say, 'Come home, date my daughter,' or, if you're married, 'Move next to me and be my neighbor,' because I think that he's that kind of person," linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said of Chris Clemons.
"I told his mother I thought she raised both him and Nic right, because they are highly respectful. Chris uses words you don't hear nowadays, 'Yes sir, no sir, thank you, please.' She did a fine job of raising them. They're a real tribute to their mom."
Chris (6-3, 234 pounds) and Nic (6-6, 278 pounds) do not know their father. Their mother worked multiple jobs to keep them fed and in school. There were no shortage of negative influences in Griffin, about an hour south of Atlanta. The crime rate is more than 50 percent above the national average, and, according to 2000 census information, the per capita income for African Americans was $9,260. Twenty-nine percent of the population under age 18 lived below the poverty line.
Chris immersed himself in football, other sports and academics, while Nic dropped out after the 10th grade. "I was living the nightlife and doing the wrong things; drinking, smoking marijuana and stuff like that," Nic said. "Without football, if I didn't have football, I know I'd be somewhere locked up."
While Chris was being recruited by top colleges, Nic tried to sort out his life. He got his general educational development diploma in 1998 and enrolled at Georgia Military College, which had a reputation for giving direction to troubled youngsters. When he arrived, he had no idea which position he would play on the football team, but received national junior college honors as a defensive end. By 2001 Nic and Chris were playing for the University of Georgia.
"I give all the credit to my mom for keeping us into sports and making sure we got out of school," Chris said. "She had to go a different route with Nic, but she always kept us looking forward to something better in life rather than just being in our home town."
Injuries and academics kept their time at Georgia brief. A toe injury limited Nic to two games in 2002. Chris let his grades slip and -- faced with having to sit out a semester or more -- left school after his junior season to try to make it in the NFL.
Robert Nunn, the Redskins' defensive line coach at the time, had been coach and athletic director at Georgia Military College and knew the brothers well. Washington's director of college scouting, Scott Campbell, is a Georgia alumnus with close ties to the school. He pushed for the team to sign them as undrafted free agents.
"Scott knows everybody there and they kind of keep him up on everything," said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' vice president of football operations. "He was our in, and it was an opportunity to take a chance on some young guys that have a world of athleticism."
The brothers spent 2003 on the practice squad. Chris suffered a hip injury and spent all year on the injured reserve list, and most figured he would not be back after Coach Joe Gibbs and a new coaching staff took over. But both again made the practice squad after the 2004 training camp, though Chris was released about a month later. He signed with Cleveland, then was re-signed by the Redskins in November and played in his first game Nov. 24 against Pittsburgh, registering a sack.
By then, he had become Lindsey's project. Chris was routinely at Redskins Park on off days getting one-on-one tutorials from Lindsey on the team's defense. By studying hours of film and taking detailed notes, he began to understand defensive alignments that once had baffled him.
After the final regular season game, Mattie Clemons finally met Lindsey, the man her son had been gushing about.
"Coach and I have good, casual conversations all the time about life and what I want to do after football," Chris said. "He tells me different things he wants me to concentrate on as far as finishing school. Basically, he's been a father figure to me, because I grew up without a father."
Nic, meanwhile, developed a bond with Blache. But after being cut in March and then re-signed, he entered training camp last summer as a long shot. Nic was ineligible for spending another season on the practice squad, meaning he had to win one of the 53 spots on the roster, and he did so with strong outings in the preseason.
"Nic has gotten so much better since I first got here, it's like night and day, honestly," said Blache, who is not prone to effusive praise of his players. "We make comments all the time during the week, 'Wouldn't it be exciting to get him on the field and see how he competes?' Honestly, if he gets a chance to line up on the field and play it's going to be exciting to watch, because he's really come a long way, and I really think he's ready to make that next step."
Last season, the brothers earned about $4,700 a week when on the practice squad, for the maximum of 17 weeks. This season Chris has a base salary of $305,000 and Nic a base salary of $205,000. The money is not guaranteed, but coming from Griffin, nothing ever was.
Blache said he is unsure if Nic will dress for tomorrow's game, even with the injuries to three other defensive linemen. But the day when the brothers play together might not be too far off.
And if it never comes, the brothers say their lives will be anything but incomplete.
"Nic and I always have conversations about it whenever one of us is feeling down," Chris said. "Where we came from, what we've been through and how we got to where we are now, the fight and the struggle we had to go through to get here. That's why I come out everyday with a big smile on my face and a great attitude, because life, the way we grew up, it was nothing like this."