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WM: Brothers On and Off the Field

Brotherhood is a term that gets thrown around a lot at Wabash. The connection, the act of living, learning, and growing up like brothers is fundamental to what makes Wabash, well, Wabash.

One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of brotherhood all across campus, but if you sat in the stands of Little Giant Stadium on a Saturday afternoon this fall, such a concept was hard to miss. Because on the field at any given time were two sets of football playing brothers—Ben ’25 and Will ’25 Netting and Connor ’25 and Liam ’24 Thompson.

“The brotherhood is definitely a real thing,” quips Ben.

Conner Thompson ’25, Will Netting ’25, Ben Netting ’25, and Liam Thompson ’24The Nettings—identical twins who have played together since they were five—both anchored the defense from their positions at safety. The Thompsons drive the offense with Liam at quarterback and Connor at wide receiver.

The idea of brothers playing together at Wabash isn’t unique. The Bureshes—Tyler ’12, Cody ’15, Ethan ’17, Dylan ’18, and Seth ’22—nearly all overlapped on the roster over a decade. And Austin ’13 and Houston ’15 Hodges both started at cornerback in 2011 and 2012.

Being on the field at the same time proved to be a powerful byproduct to a strong recruiting pitch.

“When he was looking at colleges, I was obviously pushing this way,” explains Liam about his brother. “But I never really appreciated how cool it would be for us to actually be on the field at the same time until we got to do it.”

For the Nettings, it was easy to take for granted that your twin brother is just going to be there. It wasn’t that simple. This is the first year that they’ve played defense together. For much of their shared history rising through the youth and prep ranks in Jacksonville, Florida, Ben was a quarterback and Will was a safety.

After spending the 2020 season at Marist, the duo transferred to Wabash. Will fit right in on defense, but Ben found himself behind Liam, the team’s established QB1. Knowing he didn’t want to spend three seasons as a back-up, Ben decided to switch to wide receiver. Anything to get on the field.

In his first practice as a receiver, he tore his ACL. After a lengthy recovery, he hit spring practice ready to contribute again. But in a new position. Defensive backs coach Joe Riordan mentioned the team was a little thin at safety. He suggested Ben give it a try. So he did.

In what is his third position in three seasons, Ben says, “I took the initiative and just stuck with it. From quarterback to receiver to safety, here we are.”

“The fact that he switched positions, got hurt, and then came back to learn a whole new position, that’s just crazy,” Connor says. “He’s such a good athlete to be able to do it, and we need guys like that to win.”

As the Netting brothers took the field for the first time on the same side of the ball, Will said it felt a lot like it did when they were kids.

“The first time it happened, I just kind of laughed,” says Will. “It’s hard to explain, it felt just like playing football in the backyard. I look over and he’s playing safety next to me.”

“There used to be a lot of competition between us being on opposite sides of the ball,” Ben says. “With this being my first year playing safety, having him there to teach me how to play the position has definitely been helpful.”

On the year, the Nettings combined for 55 tackles, two sacks, and six pass break ups, though Will only played in five games due to injury.

From the Thompsons, that COVID season proved to be a benefit. Liam, two years older than Connor, has an extra year of eligibility because of the lost 2020 season. That allowed these brothers to get three years together on the field instead of two.

“Wait, now I can get a third year with him,” Connor says, remembering the situation. “That was the silver lining to the pandemic. We started working out together—I caught thousands of balls from him—and I started learning the playbook early, too. It ended up being a really great thing for us.”

Netting brothers

But it wasn’t without a few adjustments.

“When I’m on the sidelines, I can feel like a fan watching Liam make plays,” Connor says of the quarterback who has successfully targeted him 13 times this season. “But when I’m on the field, it’s a lot different because I know if I don’t get my head out of the break, he’s going to drill me with the ball. It’s coming in hot, so I have to be ready.”

It was another stellar season for Liam, as he completed 72% of his passes in amassing nearly 3,600 yards and 34 touchdowns. And for the second consecutive year, he received the Mike Gregory Award as the 2022 North Coast Athletic Conference Football Offensive Player of the year. Connor averaged 13.5 yards per reception with a touchdown to his credit.

But does the Little Giant QB happen to look for his brother out of instinct when the team breaks the huddle and hits the line of scrimmage? Yes, he says, acknowledging there is a running joke about Connor getting the ball. 

While Connor isn’t getting the ball more any more than any other receiver on the field. Liam takes time to see where the advantages are. For a quarterback who’s completed nearly 75% of his passes this season, the elder Thompson has been good at identifying those advantages.

Connor’s arrival coincided with an already strong connection between Liam and fellow wide out Cooper Sullivan. During the missed COVID season, the trio worked out daily together, building the trust that every great QB-WR group has. Now, they are all on the field at the same time.

“That’s a cool thing,” says Liam. “It feels like backyard football, in a sense, but we’re playing at a pretty high level in college with really high expectations. We’re not in the backyard tossing balls around anymore. There is a whole new feeling now.”

Aside from COVID, transfers, and injuries, the one surprise benefit from getting the Nettings on the same side of the ball was the ability to learn together. When Mike Ridings arrived as the program’s new defensive coordinator following the 2021 season, it leveled the playing field by neutralizing the comfort advantage Will carried over Ben.

“Early on, I had most of the answers to the questions,” Will says. “But as we got into the season and faced new schemes, I had to go to Ben sometimes and ask, ‘what are we doing here when they come out in this formation?’ It was nice to be able to lean on him.”

Lean on each other they do. These brothers spend about 90% of their time together, whether it’s living together, practicing, or hanging out. And even through this season, where the Thompsons and Nettings have shared the field together, it’s not surprising that they are each other’s biggest fans, enjoying those moments when they can watch the other from the sideline.

Each brother had a favorite moment come to mind. Will and Ben reminisced about times in high school when as leaders of their respective units they would jaw at each other in practice, a nod to the competitiveness that exists between them.

Thompson brothersConnor mentioned Liam’s stiff arm of a DePauw defensive back in last year’s Monon Bell Game—“A lot of people would say that was their favorite Liam Thompson play,” he explains, “and that’s the one I remember most.”—but it was Liam who answered like a good big brother.

“His first touchdown (Sept. 24 vs. Denison),” he starts. “We had almost everyone from our family here that day. When he scored, I went down there to celebrate and set the ball aside. I told him that this ball is going in the trophy case at home. That’s an easy choice for me.”

It’s one thing to have an actual brother on the field, it’s another to share that experience with teammates.

“What we’ve done together just fits right in with Wabash and how we talk about brotherhood,” Will says. “Brothers playing together fits here because we have a hundred brothers on this team that we are close to.”

“Surrounding yourself with people like that is what makes this place so special,” says Ben. 

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