Ryan McCurdy's drive to win on the baseball diamond came courtesy of the unlikeliest of brothers.
When the Duke third baseman tells people that his brother is former NFL wide receiver Mike Williams, he has to explain how the McCurdys adopted Williams just a few years before he starred at Southern California.
"People didn't always put it together that this little white family was going to take [Williams, who is black,] in, so now we're his family," McCurdy said. "I would say, 'That's my brother,' and that would cause people to take a double-take."
Whether it was basketball, football or checkers, McCurdy and Williams fiercely battled for bragging rights and the win. And if the contest didn't go Williams' way, he refused to acknowledge losing.
"He'd try to get his friends and go 2-on-1 against me [in basketball], and they'd still lose," Williams said. "He was a little smart and witty, so I had to beat him in everything."
When not competing, however, the two were as close as brothers can be. The two developed a friendship that dated to their childhood in Tampa, Fla. Williams' grandmother, Gertrude Lawson, babysat McCurdy and his siblings, Chris and Ali.
In 1999, McCurdy had just finished seventh grade when his family took Williams into the family unexpectedly.
"It just kind of happened -- we had not planned on it," said Cathy McCurdy, 52, Ryan's mother and a lawyer. "He was not formally adopted."
Cathy McCurdy would not elaborate but said Williams was going through a hard time in his life.
Williams also declined to discuss the events that led to him moving in with the McCurdys.
For the first time in his life, Williams had strict rules to follow. Before moving in with the McCurdys, he never had a curfew or sat down for a family dinner.
But living with the McCurdys presented no problems. Williams moved into Ryan's room, and the two slept in bunk beds without any of the tension that arose during their competition.
Two years later, Williams left H.B. Plant High School for the West Coast, where his competitive drive helped carry him to a successful career at Southern California, where he earned All-American honors as a sophomore on the Trojans' 2004 national championship team.
Williams did not forget his family back home. He talked to them at least twice a week and was able to get them into practices closed to the public. Cathy McCurdy said she and her husband Jack missed only three of Williams' games at Southern Cal, two of which fell on Ali's birthday.
McCurdy followed Williams' lead in college athletics, enrolling at Duke to play baseball in 2006.
He started at third base, and only a shoulder injury at the end of his freshman season kept him from starting every game his first year. He hit .256 this season, but his .965 fielding percentage was third among ACC infielders with more than 100 fielding chances.
Williams has returned the favor and traveled to see McCurdy play in a Duke series each year.
Williams said he has had the opportunity to talk to McCurdy only about once a month since he went pro, usually about William's NFL career and business ventures and McCurdy's college life.
After being taken 10th in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Detroit Lions, he was traded two years later to the Oakland Raiders, who cut him midway through the season. A stint with the Tennessee Titans ended when he was cut in training camp last year.
Williams said he still wants to play in the NFL.
He said McCurdy would pay attention to how Williams prepared for life after college so that McCurdy knew what to expect.
"Regardless of how my career goes, I can't think of anyone who will have anything bad to say about what kind of person I am," Williams said. "I told Ryan what he can control are what people -- his coaches, his teammates -- think about him."
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