Wisconsin native Matt Wendelberger and New Jersey product J.J. Brania-Hopp first saw their paths cross at Bridgton Academy, a prep school in Maine.
At that point, Wendelberger and Brania-Hopp were focused on securing a spot in college football, uncertain what part of the country it would take them.
"I didn't really know anybody up there (at Bridgton) and we just hit it off,” Brania-Hopp said of him Wendelberger. “We were two of the guys that took it more serious than others on the team so we were out there working out, grinding together and trying to make it somewhere and we did.”
Their destinations ended up being a lot closer than either one of them could have imagined.
Wendelberger landed at Fort Hays State as a tight end while Brania-Hopp caught on as a receiver at Washburn.
“It was crazy,” Wendelberger said. “He was like, ‘I’m committing to Washburn.’ And I was like, ‘I’m committing to Fort Hays and they play each other.’
“I didn’t really know anything about this conference at all. Just came out here and started playing football. It’s crazy how I’m in western Kansas and he’s in Topeka. It’s nuts.”
“What were the odds of all the schools we had a shot to go to that we ended up in the same conference?” he said. "We were just focused on getting somewhere. We wanted to get somewhere and it didn't matter if we were in California, Texas, Mississippi, back up in Maine. We just wanted to get a scholarship somewhere.''
Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup between WU and FHSU at Lewis Field will be the final time the two meet as opponents. Brania-Hopp is a senior after not redshirting his first year while Wendelberger is a junior for the Tigers.
One thing that bonded the two is their shared work ethic.
“He works really hard,” Wendelberger said of Brania-Hopp. “Me and him work out in the offseason with each other when we get some time. I’ll go out to Topeka and work out with him and I’ve taken him back home to Wisconsin for spring break and we’re working hard.”
Brania-Hopp, a 6-foot, 200-pound native from Montville, N.J., had a breakout year last year, catching 41 passes for 702 yards with six touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-MIAA honors.
He has seven receptions for 183 yards with a touchdown so far this year for the 1-1 Ichabods.
“He’s been a great friend ever since I was out in Maine,” said Wendelberger, a two-time All-MIAA pick.“He’s a good kid. He’s a great athlete. I hope the best for him this season. But I’m hoping to get that win over him.
“It’s really cool to see him exploding as a player and getting out there and getting that experience.”
The trash talking has already begun between the two.
“It’s kind of fun texting back and forth all week,” said Wendelberger, a 6-1, 250-pound native of Pewaukee, Wisc., who had seven catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in last week's 23-13 loss at Missouri Western. “Like, 'Hey, here’s the series.' He’s got one last go around and we’ve been talking trash to each other all week."
"There's a little bit (of trash talking) but we're both pretty good so there's not much we could say bad about the other guy,” Brania-Hopp said.
But that won't stop them from taking a few jabs at each other on Saturday.
"There's an excitement to it because I know any time I'm near the sideline where he's at he's going to be saying something and I know whenever I see him I'm going to call him chubby and stuff out on the field and tell him he's slow,” Brania-Hopp said. “It's all good-natured.''