RICHMOND, Va. — David Amerson stood and talked as the distractions came and went, a helicopter passing overhead and fans pleading for autographs.
The Washington Redskins rookie cornerback was unfazed. This, Amerson said, is part of the job, and he learned poise long before the Redskins drafted him four months ago out of N.C. State.
Being in the NFL, he said, you become a role model to a lot of people.
One of those people sat a day earlier in the booth of a Greensboro burger joint. Noah Amerson was on his lunch break from the construction site across the street, and he spent the hour describing how, even though he is six years older, he looks up to David.
We went two different routes, Noah said. My brother, he stayed on the right path. He made it.
Noah, 27, isnt proud of these facts, but they are undeniable: His life was interrupted by bad choices and a 16-month prison term. He missed important moments with his family, and whatever promise he once carried was lost to a youth filled with mistakes.
Each brother said the other serves as an example. David, 21, said he has reached the NFL in part because he learned from his brother years ago what not to do; Noah said his brothers success reminds him daily to make the right decisions.
Were brothers, Noah said, but weve experienced two different things in life.
Noah tried often to go solo early in life, but their mother, Tawanna, wanted the boys to spend time together. The family had moved often Noah was born in Bethesda, Md., and the boys father, Efland, had been stationed at the Marine Corps base at Quantico in Virginia before they moved to New York and then Hawaii. Then the parents divorced. Tawanna, who moved her sons to Greensboro.
Noah started smoking during high school, an obstacle for his own football career, and he eventually discovered drugs. Looking back, Noah didnt want to discuss the specific mistakes he made; he said only that he made some bad choices, though public records show a cluster of gun- and drug-related arrests.
During those later years, David kept following his brother. Only this time, Noah pushed back. There were things Noah didnt want David to witness.
The lifestyle that he was living at the time was all around us, David said.
Doing the right things
After the divorce, Noah joined his father for a short time in Hawaii. David remained in North Carolina, where Tawanna had remarried. Her second husband, LaMont Taylor, acted as a mentor for young David.
Then Efland Amerson was transferred for duty in the Middle East, and Noah rejoined his family in Greensboro. He was a teen then too old, he said, to accept Taylor as quickly as David had. Noah said this was where his path diverged from Davids; he felt lost.
I was constantly gone, Efland Amerson, now a Navy psychologist, said this past week. You look back on that, and your heart hurts.
Noah found his place on the streets of Charlotte and Greensboro, where his brother was beginning high school. Noah was arrested six times within 17 months, and during late 2009 he began a prison sentence.
He missed Davids senior season at Dudley High. The pictures Tawanna brought to the prison and the picture her words painted were no substitute.
It hurt me, man, Noah said.
Years earlier, David had been told sports could be his ticket to success. A college scholarship was possible and maybe a professional career but only if he avoided a path like the one that had claimed his brother.
Just knowing what my vision was, to be a professional athlete, I knew I had to start doing the right things off the football field, David said.
Noah was released from prison during 2011 before Davids sophomore season at N.C. State. Noah said he rejoined his family in the bleachers.
He was there often when David set school and ACC records during 2011 with 13 interceptions. He was there when David succeeded and struggled.
David said he and his brother spoke regularly, celebrating after good games and discussing ways for David to improve after forgettable ones.
Tough love, David said, a moment later emphasizing its still love.
Noah said his words have a purpose.
All I can do is tell him from life experience and wisdom, he said. I just tell him to keep his head on straight.