Super Bowl champion B.J. isn't the only Raji looking to dance
Corey Raji was in the dorm kitchen grabbing a snack when his older brother made NFL history in the NFC title game. "All of a sudden my phone started going off with texts from friends," said the senior power forward for Boston College, who rushed to the TV. There in the replay his brother B.J., a 24-year-old defensive lineman for the Packers, was reading Chicago's offense like a primer. At the snap, the nose tackle shuffled three steps to the right and, with graceful ease, intercepted the pass, hauling it 18 yards to the end zone.
At 6-foot-1 and 337 pounds, the second-year pro became the heaviest player in history to score a postseason touchdown, surpassing William "The Refrigerator" Perry and earning a promotion of a nickname: Freezer. The Freezer then broke out into a booty-shaking victory dance that caused Corey to burst out laughing. "I knew he had good hands," Corey said, "but I didn't know they were that good."
But good hands are a trait that runs in the Raji family. Despite standing just 6-6, Corey is one of the best offensive rebounders in the ACC (he ranks sixth with 2.7 per game). He has good feet, as well. "Corey has a very good idea how to use his body and his footwork is exceptional -- you don't see that as much in guys his size," said Eagles coach Steve Donahue, who has used Raji primarily at power forward, where he matches up well against bigger, slower defenders.
That's a skill he's been practicing most of his life, largely thanks to the bulldozing he endured during pick-up games against his brother. "He wasn't as tall [back then], so I could beat him up a little down low," B.J. said of the sibling battles they engaged in as kids. "I think that helped him, because once he hit that growth spurt I couldn't touch him."
Not surprisingly, the Raji's suburban home in Washington Township, N.J., was a hotbed for nonstop competition that often fanned out into other hobbies, ones that tended to favor the elder B.J.'s strengths over those of the tall and wiry Corey. B.J.'s preference for full-contact sports offered Corey no respite. An avid wrestling fan, B.J. fancied the mat in the Raji basement a WWE ring and his kid brother the unwitting palooka.
"I wouldn't call it a match," Corey, now 218 pounds, admitted. "Chicken wing, chokeslam. I'd always tap out." (Friends joked that even mealtimes must have been a survival-of-the-fittest event, suggesting that B.J. ate all of Corey's food.)
Though this season Raji was moved out of BC's starting lineup to make room for freshman guard Danny Rubin, he is averaging career highs in points (12.3.), rebounds (6.6) and minutes (27.9) for the 15-8 Eagles, who have a good shot at earning an at-large NCAA tournament bid in a down year for the ACC.
"I was looking for ways to make our team better, and I thought Corey's ability to give us a lift when the starters are tired really helped," Donahue said. "When he comes off the bench teams don't think about him as much, so he can have a huge impact."
In Super Bowl XLV, B.J.'s huge impact anchored the defensive line that resulted in two key interceptions during the Packers' 31-25 win over the Steelers. BC will need a similar effort from Corey the rest of the season for the Eagles to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season.
For a few hours, Corey can ride the wave of his brother's own stellar season. But Corey, who insists he's a better dancer than his brother, is working on a different sort of dance, anyway: The Big One.