Every Thanksgiving, Connor Kelly's family and its 60 guests gather to watch the Kelly Turkey Bowl, a nine-on-nine football game that began as a two-on-two competition in the early 2000s.
From the time Kelly was in eighth grade through his first year with the Maryland men's lacrosse team, he and his older brother, Bronson, always played on the same team. But three years ago, the elder Kelly confidently said if he switched teams, he'd win the game.
The pair has lined up across from each other in the last three Turkey Bowls, with Connor winning the first two and losing the game last fall. The brothers' competitive natures helped them secure spots with two of the nation's top lacrosse programs — Bronson joined Johns Hopkins, and Connor came to Maryland.
That competitive edge hasn't faded as the No. 3 Terps prepare to face the No. 7 Blue Jays in Baltimore on Saturday. Bronson, whom Connor credits as being a role model, has since graduated from Johns Hopkins — but he's still unsure which team's attire he will wear.
"Everything we did, we were very competitive with each other," Bronson said. "We have a relationship that's hard to describe in words. You have a brother and a best friend, the way we go about things."
The brothers frequently practiced shooting in their backyard. As the only boys in the six-sibling family, they tried to learn from each other.
Their four-year age difference prevented them from ever playing on the same team, but they did square off in a summer league game. Connor's squad secured a win — something he points out when given the opportunity.
Though they were competitive, they were also different players. Bronson's strengths were speed and agility, while Connor is a more direct player. Still, the younger Kelly carefully evaluated his brother's skill set.
"I tried to work on my game to be just like him," Connor said. "He made everything so much easier for me."
The brothers competed in all sorts of areas: video games, basketball, cornhole, golf, wrestling, ping-pong. That extended to their collegiate recruiting processes.
Bronson figured he would play at an ACC school and, early in high school, one of his coaches with Maryland ties believed he would join the Terps. But he didn't feel it was an ideal fit after visiting, and his dad called Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala to see if he would be available for a meeting. The Easton, Connecticut, native spent five hours meeting with Pietramala at Homewood Field and agreed to join Johns Hopkins.
Connor attended many of his brother's games at Johns Hopkins, and Bronson told him the Blue Jays would love to have him on their roster. While Connor considered following in Bronson's footsteps, he really enjoyed his official visit to College Park, so he joined the Terps, opting to play on the opposing sideline of one of college lacrosse's biggest rivalries.
Bronson said playing Maryland was the biggest game of Johns Hopkins' season, and everyone prepared for it with extra intensity. Connor said the rivalry speaks for itself.
Bronson is planning to attend the game but expects to remain neutral. Connor, meanwhile, will be hoping to help the Terps win the Big Ten regular-season title. Regardless of the outcome, one of the brothers will boast bragging rights for a year, as has been the case every Thanksgiving for the last three years.
"We have our own brotherly rivalry," Connor said. "It's fun in that sense. Going head-to-head, it was awesome."