When Kelvin Sheppard arrived for preseason workouts with the Giants, fresh off the whirlwind of having signed with the team as a free agent, he didn’t have any wheels. The linebacker had spent his last two seasons with the Dolphins and had flown to New Jersey, not driven there, so he was without a car. He asked a new teammate, receiver Dwayne Harris, if he could borrow one of his for a few days. Harris was hesitant.
“I don’t let people drive my car,” he said. “That’s a big trust right there.”
But Sheppard wasn’t just a new teammate, at least not to Harris. They’re actually first cousins — Sheppard’s father and Harris’ mother are siblings — who grew up in close proximity to each other in Georgia. Sheppard got the keys.
“He took care of it,” Harris said, “so that was pretty good.”
It’s been pretty good, too, both players say, being teammates for the first time in their lives. They were raised about 15 minutes away from each other and, being the same age, often got together at family functions to play video games or pick-up sports, but they never actually played on the same team. They went to neighboring high schools in different classifications, so they never faced each other. Then they went to different colleges.
Their paths began to converge in the 2011 NFL Draft. Sheppard was taken in the third round by the Bills. The following day, Harris went to the Cowboys in the sixth round.
After each played in the league for five years, this past offseason, Harris started laying the groundwork for a football family reunion. He knew Sheppard was a free agent, and he called his cousin to talk up the Giants.
“I was telling him all the time that they treat me so good up here and I love it up here,” Harris said. “When he came up here, he had the same feeling. He was like: ‘Cuz, what you said, I had the same feeling. I just felt like I was at home.’ I was like: ‘Yeah, that’s how I felt when I got here. That’s why I signed here.’ Just having him here is a great thing. I love having my cousin here.”
Sheppard said Harris played a large role in his decision to sign with the Giants.
“Having my cousin here, a guy that I can definitely trust as my blood, I know he’s going to give me the real about the organization, and he did,” Sheppard said. “So far it’s been exactly what he told me.”
There also was the opportunity to do something special. Football players often refer to each other as family, but in this case, Sheppard and Harris get to experience the real thing.
“Any time you can be on the same team with your cousin or your brother, any type of blood relation, that’s a very rare thing, especially on this level,” Sheppard said.
It’ll certainly make it easier on family members who want to see them play.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Harris said. “I think we’ll definitely have a lot more family at the games because we’re both on the same team now and they don’t have to split up and go to different places. It’s going to be pretty good for both sides of the family.”
As for teammates, it’s actually a bit challenging. Despite a significant difference in stature — Sheppard is four inches and almost 50 pounds bigger than Harris — the two look remarkably alike. Their facial features are similar and both have long dreadlocks.
When told he was just a bigger version of Harris, Sheppard laughed and said, “That’s what they always say.”
As a linebacker and receiver, the two players don’t get to spend much time together during the grind of training camp (although Harris admitted to peeking over and “keeping an eye on Cuz” as he adjusts to his new team and playbook). During the down time, though, they can really bond. They chat over lunch or play video games just like when they were growing up in Georgia. Once camp ends, they’ll likely see much more of each other.
“He comes over to the crib and we sit and chitchat, we talk,” Harris said. “Ask how the kids are doing. We just sit and talk, just like family. He’s always at my house because I live right down the street. We always hang together. During OTAs and minicamp, we were always together.”
They’ve played against each other a few times in their NFL careers, most recently last season, when the Giants went to Miami for a Monday Night game.
“Usually when I see him, I’m like: ‘Hey, Cuz, don’t hit me across the middle this week!’ ” Harris said.
Now, though, they’re on the same team. In fact, both play key roles on special teams. There’s a good chance that at some point this season, Harris will have a big kickoff or punt return that is aided by Sheppard.
“I know one thing, he’s going to block somebody,” Harris said. “It’s going to be good to have him out there. He’ll be throwing blocks for me. It’s always good having family looking out for your back.”