FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – There was a time, a few years ago, that New York Jets guard Brent Qvale, then a senior in high school, was playing basketball with his big brother, who just back from college. Brian, a center for the Montana basketball team, wanted to work on a few of his post-moves and enlisted little brother to help. A few minutes later the now-Jets offensive lineman, who got significant first-team reps last week during minicamp, walked away after being cracked in the head by big brother's elbow.
"He caught it, swung his elbow and cracked me in the head and dunked it. You call that a post move?," Brent said. "That's just elbowing me and dunking it. Real nice move.”
Brent's response? Shoving big big brother and resuming the game.
See, there is no backing down. Not in this family.
The Qvale's had some legendary backyard sports shootouts. Brian is a professional basketball player in Europe and their father played in the NFL. With athletic genes like that, it is no wonder that Brent is challenging for a starting job on the offensive line of the Jets, ahead of several well-established players.
Bloody lips, black and blues and sprains were not just the norm for the Qvales kids. They were the signs of a good day for the two boys.
They grew up in Williston, North Dakota, a place known in recent years for the boom-then-bust and now maybe boom-again oil industry. The town, at one point, produced over one-million barrels of oil a day but perhaps it might end up being most famous for producing two brothers who have gone on to athletic prowess.
Brian, Brent's older brother by four years, has forged a strong professional career in Europe with stops in Turkey and Germany. Their father Sanford was no slouch either, playing college football for North Dakota State and briefly in the NFL. Little Brent – not that little at 6-foot-7-inches and 315 pounds - could be the most successful of the bunch.
For as long as he can remember he was in the backyard playing sports with his brother and his father. It didn't really matter what the sport was, as long as they were active and competing. Basketball, football, baseball, hockey in the driveway – you name it and the boys played it.
There were epic confrontations, ones that would push both brothers to exhaustion. It is where Brent's competitive streak was born. Things haven't changed much since those days. Watch him in practice and it is clear that Brent loves the game of football. He plays to the whistle and he plays physically. Not unlike in the backyard games with his bigger brother. He wouldn't back down then. He won't back down now.
“My brother and I had some brawls growing up. I got my best competition from him,” Brent told Metro last week during minicamp. “Definitely some elbows in the face but it was good, friendly competition. I tried to keep with him, he tried to make me better. All we did was play sports together. It was some great competition between the two of us. You definitely need that here. That got instilled in me my whole life. From my dad, my brother from college now to here.”
He's been getting first-team repetitions during offseason workouts at guard and tackle. Now at mincamp last week, Qvale was slotted in at right guard where he got significant reps, roughly one-third of the first-team reps at guard. The depth chart isn't out yet but it is clear that he is getting more than just a passing look from the new coaching staff. He's performing well and being given a shot.
He came to the Jets last year as an undrafted rookie free agent after a solid career at Nebraska where he made 53 appearances with 18 starts. He didn't play at all last year as he was on the practice squad, but he continued to improve and impress. His body was reshaped, and he got stronger, leaner.
Qvale has long arms, ideal for a guard, to withstand the bull-rush and brute strength of interior defensive lineman. His technique is solid and his footwork is improving.
Then of course there is his competitive streak which is nothing new to him and was born in his backyard.
“It's nice, through your hard work, getting a little reward and a shot through your hard work. It was a battle my whole first year to get on the practice squad,” Brent said. “Now getting better from year one to year two. This is why you work hard, to have these opportunities.”
This is why you play with your big brother all those years. Even if it means getting cracked in the skull occasionally.