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Boldin Brothers Unite in San Francisco

Posted Nov 25, 2014

Much of what the siblings have accomplished can be credited to their mutually beneficial big brother-little brother relationship, and now they're working together in the NFL.

Across the way from the trailer park where Anquan and D.J. Boldin lived as kids was a vacant road.

Other than farmland, not much else surrounded their Pahokee, Fla., mobile home.

But there was that unwinding stretch of road.

When Anquan was a budding star in high school, D.J. often biked behind his big brother, who ran the mile-long path as part of his workout regimen.

“I was just encouraging him while he jogged there and back,” D.J. said. “I trailed him with the water just in case he needed it.”

Anquan has always pushed D.J. to be better.

When Anquan was playing college ball at Florida State, D.J. regularly made the six-hour trek north to Tallahassee in the summertime so the two could train.

While they were in the gym, Anquan wouldn’t stop lifting until D.J. tapped out.

“If you’re going to work with Anquan,” D.J. said, “he’s going to demand your best. That’s just who he is.”

Anquan has always pushed D.J. to be better.

Years later, Anquan and D.J. vacationed to Las Vegas together during an offseason.

While on the Strip, the siblings stumbled upon the New York-New York Hotel’s iconic roller coaster.

Anquan knew D.J. feared coasters, so he challenged him to go on the ride.

“Once you double dare a man, it’s kind of hard to turn it down,” D.J. said. “I screamed the entire time while he just laughed.”

Anquan has always pushed D.J. to be better.

At their cores, Anquan and D.J. are strikingly similar. Their foundations as men are built on fervent work ethics. And much of what they've accomplished can be credited to their mutually beneficial big brother-little brother relationship.

Fittingly enough, they’ve found their way together once again, each working for the San Francisco 49ers – Anquan as the team’s leading receiver and D.J. as an offensive assistant on the coaching staff.

Setting an Example

Although they have two older siblings, one brother and one sister, Anquan and D.J. were the closest growing up.

Six years older, Anquan stayed out of trouble to avoid sending the wrong message to D.J.

“He’s always looked up to me. That’s one of the reasons I tried to do things the right way, because I knew I had somebody coming up behind me,” Anquan said. “I had to look out for him.”

Part of that responsibility included making sure that D.J. never felt like he needed to be anything other than himself.

Joe Marx, who coached Anquan at Pahokee High School, always saw the younger kids in town trying to emulate his team’s star player, the town’s proud son.

“They all wanted to be Anquan,” Marx said. “D.J. included.”

Anquan, being the protective older brother that he is, wanted D.J. to have a clean slate.

“Everyone would try to compare him to me, and that’s something that I thought was unfair,” Anquan said. “We’re two different people.”

Anquan went as far as telling D.J. to pick any position on the football field other than receiver. As a safety, the spot Anquan felt his brother should play, D.J. wouldn’t hear as much about Anquan’s accolades, which included being named Florida’s Mr. Football his senior year after scoring 56 total touchdowns.

That decision, however, was not Anquan’s to make, and D.J.’s mind was made up.

“Anquan has always been a special guy, and being a kid, you want to be special too so you mimic those things,” D.J. said. “It never got to the point where I felt any pressure to be like him. I just always looked up to him and always respected him. Nothing else mattered.”

As turned out, D.J. was a talented receiver in his own right. Following a standout prep career at Pahokee, D.J. went on to star at Wake Forrest, leading the ACC in receptions as a senior with 81 catches.

“He was real good,” Anquan said, smiling and looking out onto to the practice fields at the 49ers training facility. “Real good.”

Together in Red and Gold

After going undrafted in 2009, D.J. signed with the Detroit Lions. He spent the entire preseason with the team, but he was among the final cuts before the regular season.

He later spent time with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League before hanging up his cleats and deciding what to do next.

“I think every player goes through a process after they’re done playing where they try to figure out what’s next,” D.J. said. “I thought to myself, ‘Do I have a college degree? Yes. Do I love working with people? Yes.’ I knew those things and I knew I loved teaching, so it was obvious what to do.”

In the spring of 2013, D.J. began his coaching career in the Professional Developmental Football League, which pits former college athletes against each other with the goal of feeding players to the NFL. It was there, back in South Florida and far away from the bright lights of the NFL, that D.J. fell in love with coaching.

Anquan took notice and vouched for his brother. After being traded to San Francisco in March of 2013, Anquan approached Jim Harbaugh about bringing D.J. on to the 49ers staff as an intern.

The coach agreed, but he only guaranteed D.J. a position for the duration of training camp. Anquan had helped get his brother’s foot in the door, but it was up to D.J. to get all the way through.

He did not disappoint.

“I worked my tail off,” D.J. said. “I blocked out everything. Even though Anquan is my brother, we barely saw each other. That’s just how it goes in the coaching world. It’s late nights and early mornings, but I can’t picture me doing anything else.”

After D.J. proved his worth in camp, Harbaugh extended his internship through the entire 2013 season. Then during the offseason, the 49ers offered D.J. a full-time job as an offensive assistant.

D.J. now has an office at the 49ers facility just down the hall from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. It’s not a glamorous working space; there are no windows, and it’s maybe the size of a broom closet, but D.J. doesn’t mind. He’s too busy to care – or eat lunch for that matter.

His weekly responsibilities include diagramming different schemes that the 49ers offense might see from its opponent and presenting them to the players.

“It’s my job that when Sunday comes, they’ve seen every possible look,” D.J. said.

Anquan and D.J. talk frequently about football, and on gamedays, they’ll make adjustments together if one of them sees something specific from the sideline. D.J. also relays observations to the other coaches.

Although he’s focused on the present, D.J. has found himself looking to the future at times. He aspires to be an offensive coordinator, and one day, “a great head coach like Harbaugh.”

Anquan won’t take any credit for his brother’s success. It’s not in his nature. But when talking about how far D.J. has come and how hard he has worked, Anquan’s default stern expression rapidly fades. He looks like a proud papa.

“He’s still here,” Anquan said. “How about that?”

All-around Greatness

D.J. usually takes a beat before providing a thoughtful answer, but for one question, his reply comes without delay.

Should Anquan be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day?

“Definitely. First ballot,” D.J. said. “I’ve seen probably more than anybody else has seen of the hard work Anquan puts in. And the hard work that it took for him to get to this point hasn’t stopped.”

Anquan’s career resume certainly should have him in the discussion for enshrinement at least. After all, he was the fastest player in NFL history to reach 400 career receptions (67 games), 500 career receptions (80 games) and 600 career receptions (98 games). He also has a Super Bowl ring to his name and more than 12,000 career receiving yards.

But these numbers don’t play a big factor in how D.J. views his brother. He believes Anquan is an all-time great because of his selflessness.

As a big brother, Anquan learned how to be a role model throughout his youth. Perhaps by pushing D.J., Anquan simultaneously pushed himself.

And now that D.J. has found his calling, Anquan has directed those same skills toward philanthropy.

“We all know the hard work he does on the field, but I think it’s downplayed what he does off of it,” D.J. said. “He does phenomenal things. Things that should be characterized as what a Pro Bowler or Hall of Famer does. He’s changing lives. That speaks to me more than anything.”

Anquan’s nonprofit, the Anquan Boldin Foundation, supports many worthy causes like after-school activities and summer-enrichment programs. Anquan and his wife, Dionne, recently announced a $1 million endowment to the foundation to be used for need-based scholarships.

D.J. gets involved in Anquan’s charitable work as much as he can. The siblings apply the same passion they have for football to helping the community. What else would you expect?

“With his success, he’s been able to see so many things in life,” D.J. said. “He’s helped me and so many others do the same by giving opportunities that we normally wouldn’t get. He genuinely cares.”