COLUMBIA — From a distance, it's easy to mistake brothers Ryan and Kyle Asbury.
Sophomore running back Ryan Asbury joined his brother Kyle Asbury, a junior safety, on the Hickman varsity team this season after spending last year at West Junior High.
The No. 28 on the back of Ryan Asbury's jersey looks a lot like the No. 20 that his brother wears. The public address announcer at Hickman's Robert M. LeMone Field and Hickman head coach Jason Wright have fallen victim to mixing the brothers up.
But, as the season has progressed, Wright has learned just how distinct the differences between the Asbury brothers are.
"You wouldn't know they were related," Wright said. "But I think deep down they have a special bond."
It's that bond, despite their differences, that has been responsible for Kyle Asbury easing his brother's transition to the speed of high school football and for allowing both brothers to push each other to succeed at Hickman.
The brothers are the third generation of the Asbury family to attend Hickman High School. Their grandfather, Bill Asbury, graduated in 1949 and their father, Greg Asbury, also played football for Hickman during the 1978 season.
Their father agrees it might be easy to make a mistake with his sons' names while they're wearing pads and helmets, but, he said, their differences are striking.
"They're like night and day," Greg Asbury said.
Physically, it's not hard to see that the two are brothers. Both have blue eyes and dark hair. Kyle Asbury, though, has been much bigger than his brother throughout their careers. Kyle Asbury stands 5'10"and weighs 165 pounds. Ryan Asbury is 5'8" and weighs about 20 pounds less than his brother.
The differences in their styles of play are even more distinct. Ryan Asbury is a shifty, finesse runner who has never been eager to take on a lot of contact.
Kyle Asbury plays safety and linebacker in Hickman's unique 4-2-5 defense. He brings a lot of aggression to the field, and his physical play is held in high regard by his coaches and his younger brother.
"He's always gone out and been willing to nail somebody," Ryan Asbury said. "I'm always the guy that thinks, 'Well, I'm just going to go around them.'"
The biggest difference between the two is the experience they brought into the season.
"Kyle is a kid that's been around for a while," Wright said. "He's a junior, but is really a senior with all the experience he got last year."
Ryan Asbury walked into the first day of summer workouts and found himself lost. It didn't take long for him to realize that his brother's experience would become a valuable resource.
"I first came in this summer, and they did a lot of drills I didn't know because I did track," Ryan Asbury said. "He did them last year so I had to ask him a lot of questions about what to do."
As the offseason progressed and the season began, those questions came less often. And after injuries to starting running backs Spenser Washington and Gary Smith in Hickman's first game, Ryan Asbury became the feature back for the Kewpies in just his second game in a varsity uniform.
Coming into last week's game against Rockhurst, Ryan Asbury had carried the ball 28 times, second only behind junior quarterback Matt Herman. His performance has exceeded the expectations of many of the people around him, including his father and head coach.
The only people who don't seem to be surprised are the Asbury brothers.
"I looked at (Ryan) and I said, 'Did you ever think you'd be where you're at right now?' And he looked at me and he said, 'Yes,'" Greg Asbury said. "In his mind, it's where he should be. He didn't think for a second, 'Oh my God, here I am.'"
Kyle Asbury shared his brother's thoughts about where his expectations should be, and thinks that even without his help his brother would be doing just fine.
"When I came up here, I was all by myself and I got through it fine," Kyle Asbury said. "All of the other guys get through it fine. Most of the guys up here don't have brothers. I thought he was going to be fine."
Their father thinks that the older brother's impact has been more important than he might lead on.
"When you walk into a locker room for the first time, and nobody shows you the way or you walk into a locker room and there's a guy walking infront of you that you know really well, it's just easier," Greg Asbury said. "Having an older brother helps you push a little bit harder."
While Kyle Asbury's experience and Ryan Asbury's ability to learn have been important, it's the similarities the brothers share and not the gaps between them that have proven most valuable.
Both brothers bring a competitiveness level so high that their father says it can even be problematic when they're away from football.
"A lot of times, in our house, we're just trying to play down the competitiveness," Greg Asbury said. "We try to get them to not be so competitive because it doesn't really matter what you're playing. Whether it's Monopoly or cards, they compete."
It's that competitiveness their head coach appreciates.
"Both of them have such great mental toughness, great family, great background," Wright said. "They're 'yes-sir, no-sir' guys. They're guys that you'd want your son to emulate."
With that sort of praise for both brothers, it might not matter if people know which Asbury is which.