Back in the day, the Ojulari sibling battles were apparently pretty intense in Marietta, Georgia.
"All we did was fight," LSU junior defensive end BJ Ojulari said of the scraps he had with older brother Azeez, who played at Georgia and is nearing his second season as a New York Giants outside linebacker. "We fought every day, but that just made us closer now. When we were in the backyard competing, it would somehow and some way end up in a fight, but at the end of the day, we knew we loved each other.
"Even if we were playing Madden, as the younger brother, I would want to rub it in even if it was just for a little second. A couple days later, I knew he would come back and pound on me, but it was all good."
While Azeez was out setting a Giants rookie record with eight sacks — the NFL started tracking sacks in 1982, a year after Lawrence Taylor had 9.5 as a Giants rookie — BJ was leading Ed Orgeron's Tigers with seven sacks while ranking second with 11.5 tackles for loss.
Of course, they're not Ed Orgeron's Tigers anymore but Brian Kelly's Tigers, with Kelly having quickly discovered the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ojulari as a foundation piece.
"As a person, he's what you want to represent your program," Kelly said. "That's why he's represented us as our student-athlete representative in the NCAA forums. He represented us in our student-athlete interactions on campus. His traits are outstanding, as is his character and how he handles himself in the classroom. He's a leader.
"I couldn't say more about the integrity and character that he has. Look, we're going to talk about his ability to rush the passer and his prominence there, but I could talk more about the person than the player, because that's who I've been associating myself with more on a day-to-day basis."
Last season: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 4 vs. Florida State in New Orleans (7:30 p.m. on ABC)
Fun fact: New LSU coach Brian Kelly has posted five undefeated regular seasons during his career — two at Grand Valley State (2001-02), one at Cincinnati (2009) and two at Notre Dame (2012 and 2018).
Up next: Ole Miss
Azeez was part of Georgia's top-ranked signing class in 2018 that had seven top-25 national prospects, including quarterback Justin Fields, running back Zamir White, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer and cornerback Tyson Campbell. The older Ojulari was a four-star signee who erupted during the coronavirus-shortened season of 2020, amassing 31 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 10 games before bypassing his senior year.
While Azeez was outside the top-100 national prospects in 2018, BJ was the No. 84 overall signee in 2020 but chose another SEC locale.
"I'm a man who wants to do his own thing," he said. "I love my brother, but at the same time, I want people to remember my name for what I did and not just under his shadow.
"My family supported me, and the distance to LSU was a factor at first, but I've always believed in LSU and its staff and what we can do here."
Both Ojularis are seeking better seasons for their respective teams, with the Giants having struggled to a 4-13 record last year and the Tigers winding up 6-7. It was LSU's first losing season since 1999, but Kelly, Ojulari and the rest of the Tigers will have an early national spotlight on Sunday, Sept. 4, when they face Florida State in New Orleans.
A starting quarterback among fifth-year senior Myles Brennan, Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier and freshman Walker Howard has to emerge in the weeks ahead, while the conversations between the Ojularis are certain to continue.
"I would say we talk two or three times a week," the younger Ojulari said. "Our schedules are busy, but we try and talk, even on the weekends. I play on Saturdays and he plays on Sundays, but that's often when we get the most communication in. This time of year, we talk almost every day. We talk more football during the season and more about life during the offseason.
"During the season, he tells me stuff to help my mentality going into big games. He set the rookie sack record, and he's just making it harder for me to chase him. As brothers, that's what we've been doing our whole lives. I'm proud of him, and he's going to continue to do great things."