In 1998, Craig Rigsbee, head coach of the Butte College football team, took his squad on a field trip.
The Roadrunners traveled three hours south to Berkeley, where they, along with Rigsbee’s sons Jordan, 5, and Tyler, 8, attended a Cal football practice to see the speed and discipline of a Division I practice up close. The players walked along Telegraph Avenue during the day and went to Spenger’s for dinner.
“I was trying to inspire my team, but in reality, I inspired my own kids,” Rigsbee says.
Cal, Jordan proclaimed, is where we are going to play someday. Craig did not think much of it at the time. He told his sons that they had a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of them if they wanted to play for the Bears.
Now, 14 years later, Jordan, a redshirt freshman, is starting at Cal literally alongside Tyler, a redshirt senior. But if it weren’t for his brother, Jordan might still be on the bench.
The Rigsbee siblings were inseparable growing up.
Jordan looked up to Tyler, was competitive with him. They would play stickball in the backyard. They always got along.
“They never didn’t want the other one around,” says their mother, Karla.
Three years apart, Jordan and Tyler were never on the same sports team. In football, basketball and baseball, Jordan was always one notch below, despite generally playing with kids older than him.
In 2007, they lined up next to each other for the first time in a real game. The Pleasant Valley High Vikings were in the playoffs, so they plucked Jordan off the freshman squad to join Tyler on varsity. In the second half, the coach put Jordan in at left guard, right next to his brother at left tackle.
“They were joking after that game, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we could do that in college someday,’” Craig says.
Little did they know.
Tyler graduated at the end of that school year and went on to Cal. Jordan did not expect to follow him to Berkeley three years later.
At first, Jordan wanted to go somewhere else to forge his own path. Tyler was already entrenched at Cal — Jordan wanted to have his own identity.
“When I was making my decision, I tried not to have him in it, but obviously, you can’t really help it,” Jordan says. “It’s gonna have some role in your choice.”
Tyler wanted Jordan to go where he wanted to go — and Jordan had grown up on the Bears.
His father coached Aaron Rodgers at Butte before Rodgers transferred to Cal. One of the first college games Jordan remembers was the 2004 Holiday Bowl between the Bears and Texas Tech.
Jordan would visit his brother in Berkeley all the time. He had gotten to know some of the other players, and the coaches made the four-star recruit feel welcome.
UC Berkeley is where he had wanted to go all his life — the perks of having an older brother on the team did not occur to him at the time.
“Once he got there, he really realized what a great support system it was to have Tyler there,” Karla says.
In Tyler, Jordan has an extra tutor on the team. Digesting a complicated offense was tough for Jordan. But it is a lot easier for him to listen to the words of his older brother than another teammate.
“I’ve always trusted what he had to say,” Jordan says. “Having him next to me made it easy.”
Still, it took Jordan a full year to learn the playbook. He remembers feeling insecure at fall camp because he “didn’t know anything.” He recalls offensive line coach Jim Michalczik telling him early in the spring that he was ready physically but did not know the playbook well enough.
When the brothers were lined up together during the spring, Tyler would call out the plays, and Jordan would try to implant them in his memory. By the end of the spring, Jordan knew the calls and was making them on his own.
“I don’t know I would have been as good with the playbook now if it wasn’t for him,” Jordan says. “We’re always on the same page, which is nice when we play right next to each other.”
While Tyler had to wait until this redshirt senior season to start, Jordan was penciled in as starter at left guard after spring ball.
“I think having the two of them together probably helped him get to that place sooner,” Karla says.
At 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, Jordan Rigsbee can withstand the physical rigors of a college football season. But, like most freshmen, Jordan still needs help with the mental aspects of the game.
The brothers watch film together. If Jordan wants feedback on his play, he does not have to trek all the way up to Memorial Stadium to see Coach Michalczik — he can head over to his brother’s house. Jordan pulls up his footage, and Tyler critiques it.
“He’s always kind of looked out for me,” Jordan says. “It’s someone I know will always be there for me. No matter what, no matter how old we get, we’ll always be there for each other.”
The brothers are closer now than they were in high school.
They go out to dinner a few nights a week, just the two of them. They talk about football and life, the way only brothers can.
They celebrate success and commiserate in sorrow. Losing is hard on everyone, and, at 3-6, the Bears could be in for a few more losses before the year’s end. But Jordan has someone with whom to talk through the pain.
“I think me and Tyler do a pretty good job of picking each other up,” Jordan says. “If I’m tired, he’ll start yelling and joking around.”
In spite of the team’s tribulations this season, Jordan thinks the future of Cal football is bright. Having Tyler by his side has given Jordan a strong foundation to his nascent college career. Next season, especially with three seniors currently on the offensive line, Jordan plans to become the leader and teacher his brother was to him.
First, he wants to give a little something back to Tyler. After the Bears’ loss to Utah last Saturday, Jordan lamented to his father that he felt even worse, as Cal needs to win out to reach the postseason. Jordan has three more seasons, but 2012 is Tyler’s last.
“That’s one thing I just feel bad for,” Jordan says. “I really wanted to make sure he went to a bowl game his last year. It’s been frustrating for me.”
Even if the Bears do not make a bowl, Jordan should not worry about disappointing Tyler. He will always be proud of his little brother.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]