It's a constant competition. In Xavior Motley’s first high school game, he intercepted a pass and ran it back 85 yards for a touchdown. Not to be outdone, his identical twin brother, Ilyaas, used his first shot on the field for Centerville High School to pick up a fumble and run it all the way back for a touchdown of his own.
Both brothers point to the other’s first touchdown as their favorite sports memory.
“We both always compete against each other,” Xavior said. “We play the same position, so if one of us makes a play, the other one knows they can make it better. We push each other to be the best.”
It’s the kind of rivalry that any team can benefit from, and one that Ohio fans may get to witness in the coming years at Peden Stadium, after both 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerbacks committed to playing college football for the Bobcats.
Even though their parents can count on one hand the number of times the twin brothers have been apart for more than 24 hours in their lives, few people thought it would be possible for both to play football for the same school when they reached college.
Provided via Jessica Motley
“Everyone was telling them, ‘Oh, get ready. You’ll never go to school together. You’ll never go to college together,’” Hannibal Motley, the twins’ father, said. “‘Get this in your system right now so it’s not a big letdown for you.’ ”
When the first offer addressed to the Motleys was given to both of them, some of that doubt was put to the side. When each of the next two were the same way, the doubt was put to rest for good.
The skepticism didn’t come without reason. Chances that two brothers are both going to have a skill set and makeup that match what a school is looking for are pretty slim.
Not many schools recruit in pairs, and even fewer carry twin brothers on their active rosters, with just one Mid-American Conference school outside of Ohio fielding a set of twins. It gets even more rare in the NFL, with just two sets of twin brothers currently playing on professional teams, neither of whom are on the same team.
But based on ability to complement each other on the field, if a team is willing to recruit twins, the Motleys are a good place to start.
The Motleys are one of two sets of twins on Ohio’s football roster, joined by freshman tight ends Adam and Ryan Luehrman out of Athens High School.
“It’s funny because we sat down at the table with (the Luehrmans), and we didn’t know,” Ilyaas said. “We were just kind of looking around, and all of a sudden it hit us and we looked at each other and were like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s twins there.’ ”
“Everyone was telling them, ‘Oh, get ready. You’ll never go to school together. You’ll never go to college together.'” Hannibal Motley, Father of Xavior and Ilyaas
The Motleys’ rise into the game of football was neither linear nor expected. Accomplished tennis players when they were younger, Xavior and Ilyaas began to want to be part of a bigger team, ideally something that would allow them to be around their friends more often. In their spare time, the brothers were playing video games and making ceramics.
In sixth grade, the twins got their first shot at football, but it wasn’t love at first sight. Their athleticism stood out so much that their coaches played them essentially everywhere on the field. That, combined with a lack of team success, had the twins burned out by the end of the season.
Even the move to the more football-centric high school didn’t immediately ignite much passion for the gridiron in Xavior and Ilyaas. In fact, during their sophomore year of high school, both were ready to walk away from the game altogether.
It was at that time, however, that the twins credit Francois Hagenimana, a former assistant coach for Centerville who died in a car crash later that season, for persuading them to stick around in football. In their junior seasons, the two began to put on a show in the defensive backfield that sparked the interest of Division I colleges across the country, with Xavior even receiving offers from Big Ten schools.
Provided via Jessica Motley
“He ended up starting, I got my varsity letter, then our junior year, we did really good,” Ilyaas said. “That’s when we started to love the game. Senior year, it took off from there, and now we’re here.”
“They’re pretty laid-back, easygoing kids,” Jessica Motley, their mother who was a track competitor in college, said. “But they are super intense on the field. You wouldn’t guess how hard they can hit and how explosive they are just by looking at them and seeing their personality. They’re not aggressive kids. But on the football field, it’s a different story.”
That two-sided aspect applies just as much to the relationship the twins have on and off the field as it does to the game itself. In each other, the brothers have both their biggest fans and their greatest competitor, a friend who will get louder than anyone when cheering them on and a foe who will immediately set his sights on outdoing whatever accomplishment the other just achieved.
Provided via Jessica Motley
While the public sees the effect the twins have on each other, their parents witness the effect they have on their younger sisters: a 13-year-old who competes in every track and field event her brothers did, and a 3-year-old who has been at every sporting event the twins participated in since she was two weeks old.
“They’re those kinds of brothers that, after a basketball game, the first thing they would do is come over to the bleachers and pick up their little sister and carry (her) around with them the rest of the night,” Hannibal said. “They definitely have a big influence on their little sisters.”
Of course, they wouldn’t be playing football at the Division I college level if schools like Ohio didn’t see one thing in them above all else: potential. They were the first cornerbacks out of the class of 2016 to sign with the Bobcats — no small piece of information, given how astute the program is at recruiting and developing its secondary personnel.
Of the five Ohio alumni to get drafted into the NFL since 2009, two are defensive backs: Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell and Oakland Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie. Another cornerback, 2015 2nd team All-Mid-American Conference selection Ian Wells, signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent in May.
Now that the twins represent two-thirds of the freshman cornerback class at Ohio, coaches who have worked with both closely see a similar sky’s-the-limit kind of future in Xavior and Ilyaas as they have in past stars of Ohio’s defense.
“Knowing who the boys are and knowing the work ethic that they have, they’re definitely gonna work hard to get on that field eventually.” Hannibal Motley, Father of Xavior and Ilyaas
“We knew through the whole process they were both very good football players,” cornerbacks coach Anthony Perkins said. “The fact that they’re twin brothers who happened to want to go to school together was just a cherry on top. I think that both of them have a very high ceiling and are going to be very good players for this team in the future.”
How far away that future might be remains to be seen, but for a pair of brothers who made their way sitting back and allowing football to come to them, a small period of patience likely won’t be any major problem. For their parents, it’ll be a small price to pay if it means they one day will be able to watch them line up for the same defense at Peden Stadium.
“Through high school, when there’s a Motley on one side of the field and a Motley on the other side of the field, we were always hearing our names called in the stands,” Hannibal said. “That’s a really great feeling. Knowing who the boys are and knowing the work ethic that they have, they’re definitely gonna work hard to get on that field eventually. I think we’re gonna start hearing those names called again real soon.”