Often times, teams in any sport will describe the bond with
their teammates as a family. With the tight-knit relationships,
constant support, and care for each other, many teams do develop
into their own sense of a family.
Here at the Academy, several sets of siblings bring an actual family setting to the athletics program. Sophomore Victor Rizzardi had his brother Joe, a freshman, follow him to play defensive back on the Bears football team while their teammate, sophomore wide receiver Collis Brown, followed his sister Larla, a junior forward on the women’s basketball team. Junior men’s basketball guard, Kevin Sowers, followed in the steps of his brother Al who also played for the Bears and graduated in 2008, as they all have come to be a part of the Coast Guard family.
For the Rizzardi’s, it was a few relatives and close friends that got them thinking of attending a military academy in the first place.
“There are a lot of military figures in our family and they convinced me from the time I was little that the military was the way to go,” said Joe. “Our grandpa was a World War II veteran and he always told us cool stories, he’s the toughest guy I have ever met in my life – tough as nails. He was always a role model for us growing up.”
Kevin had the opportunity to see the success that Al had throughout his four year run at the Academy and beyond.
“I really became interested in the academy when I got to see the friendships that my brother was able to make over the years,” he said. “Another big interest was to see how successful he and all his friends were right out of the academy. A lot of his other friends struggled to find jobs and the fact that you can come out of the Academy with a very good, free education and a job was a huge plus.”
With the Brown’s growing up in Kingwood, Texas and the Rizzardi’s in Ashburn, Virginia , and the Sowers’ in Monrovia, Maryland, going home on weekend liberty is not really an option – they are here for the long haul, so it can be nice to see a familiar face walking around.
“You don’t get to see the other members of your family a whole lot while you’re here, so I was really excited when he told me he got in” said Victor. “I was really pulling for him and thought it would be cool to play with him for a few more years. We are here supporting each other and it’s great just to see your own family around and be able to hang out every weekend and at practice.”
Being the elder of the siblings, Larla has had the chance to experience a year at the Academy with and without Collis being right down the hall and she prefers it like it was growing up, when the two were always side-by-side.
“It’s much better having him here,” she said without hesitation. “One of my biggest problems when I was a freshman and here without Collis was homesickness. It really did get to me. We pretty much did everything together growing up. Just even using him as a sounding board and having someone here that knows your past and knows you, helps so much.”
During her freshman year, Larla played the role of a recruiter and got Collis on board to apply to the Academy, the only school that he sent an application to.
“The fact that Larla was here and being able to play football were the two biggest factors that got me interested here,” he said. “Seeing everything she had to go through during her first year made it a tough decision, but once I made it, it was comforting to know that I could play football and still be with her.”
Al played a similar role for Kevin in coming here for school.
“My brother had a huge influence in me attending the Academy,” Kevin said. “He's always been a good role model to me and I believe in everything he says. When I asked him if he thought I should go to the Academy, he told me ‘absolutely’ and that's all I needed to convince me that it was the right decision.”
For the Rizzardi’s, reuniting at the Academy and on the football field has brought them closer together off it and allowed them to develop a deeper tie with each other.
“Being here together brings you closer together as siblings,” said Victor. “In high school we never really hung out, we each had our own group of friends. Once I got here and then he started the application process and finally got in, it definitely made our bond as brothers a lot stronger.”
Joe and Collis each received some words of wisdom of what to expect from their experienced older sibling, trying to prepare and give them an advantage as an incoming fourth-class and what they should expect upon arrival at the Academy. Sometimes, however, ignorance can be the best tool a cadet can have heading into SWAB summer.
“Everything he told me possibly had a negative effect,” Joe said with a laugh. “I came in feeling a little entitled because I thought I knew what to expect and I didn’t really have a good SWAB summer. But Victor being here, without a doubt, has helped so much.”
Although Collis also got some inside info from his sister, she left a few surprises for him and left him to figure some other things out on his own.
“She told me a few things here and there that were helpful - I packed some things that I would have never even thought to bring with me, but it definitely helped a bit.”
“I wanted to help prepare him mentally,” she said. “But I didn’t want to tell him the specific things he would be doing. I wanted him to be able to have his own experience and make his own judgments.”
Kevin came to the Academy knowing a few familiar faces, but still had to pave his own path to make his mark.
“It definitely helped to know some of the upperclassmen that Al was friends with and know that they would look out for me, but he let me learn a lot of the stuff on my own.”
Though you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at them, both the Sowers’, Brown’s and Rizzardi’s are family in the truest respects. Each of their individual personalities is equally matched by their sibling – their mannerisms, outlook, and exchanges of quick quips are all mirrored by one another.
“Everyone that talks to us says that our personalities are
practically identical and we have similar interests too,”
says Victor. “But on the field we have two different playing
styles. I play a bit more disciplined with my assignments and what
I need to do. Joe’s more hard-charging. He’s extremely
aggressive and is always running after the ball … it has its
ups and downs,” he said ribbing his younger brother.
Though the Brown’s do not share the same field as the Rizzardi’s, they know that they can find in each other in the bleachers at their game.
“We’re always in the stands cheering each other on,” said Larla. “I haven’t missed a single home football game, and in high school, I don’t think I missed a single home or away game. But it is not different for him. He is at all my basketball games, too.”
“There are times here when we don’t get to see each other because we are swamped with work, have practice, and our schedules don’t match up,” Collis explained. “Its nice being able to watch each other play and just knowing that I have her here when I need her really settles me. It helps just knowing someone is there for you.”
That is what family is all about.