Brotherly Love - Michael Antonescu Feature
Oct. 18, 2011
By: Brie Campbell
Brotherly love reigns true between teammates on and off the field, but for Michael Antonescu it's a dream come true as he has been able to play with younger brother, A.J., the last two years on the Memphis Tigers football team.
The senior offensive lineman came to Memphis in 2007 for his first season with the Tigers. But taking the step to come to Memphis and leaving A.J. behind was not easy.
The summer before Michael signed with Memphis, their mother, Jill Antonescu, died of cardiac arrest. Shortly after their mother's death, Michael and A.J. were placed with a foster family. Michael ultimately made his way to Memphis while A.J. was tossed between a couple homes until he found his match with "The Golden Girls."
"They have been tremendous for A.J. They treat him like one of their own," said Michael of the trio of ladies A.J. lived within his most recent stint in foster care. "A.J. is out of the system now and they are still at every game they can make and still wonderful."
While A.J. was taken care of, it was still hard for Michael to continue to see his brother with his football schedule and A.J.'s schedule playing at a junior college.
In August 2010, Michael was talking with Coach Porter about how the team was in need of an offensive lineman, and Michael felt he had just the right guy to fit in with the Tigers. At that time A.J. had played one year of football at a junior college after hanging up his cleats from a shoulder injury in baseball. Michael immediately mentioned his younger brother and his natural born ability to play sports, and a couple weeks later, A.J. reported to camp.
"Everything comes easy to AJ," said Michael. "A.J. has never had to work a day in his life when it comes to sports. He is a natural-born athlete.
"As for me, I have worked for everything I got. He got the athletics, I got the brains," Michael quipped.
As children Michael and A.J. were close. They were raised by single-mother, Jill, after their father had left the family when Michael was two years old. Being able to play ball with his brother at his side was a dream-come-true for Michael.
"A.J. and my daughter, Georgia Rea, are the only blood family I have left. But, having A.J. and I together is what is important."
And the desire to be near family was not one shared only by Michael.
"Michael is the reason I came to Memphis," said A.J. "Obviously the family situation that we had been through was a difficult one, and I am glad to have had this opportunity. This was the best decision for me to be back around my only family."
When Michael was receiving recruiting letters and meetings with collegiate coaches in high school, A.J. was always the first to get up in the morning and look at big brother's phone to see who he was meeting that day. Football was something that brought the boys closer together.
"To see him get to do what he loves to do and wants to do, on the same level as me, is absolutely wonderful to witness," said Michael.
Michael had shared a room with A.J. since he was born, so it was only fitting that the big brother would move back to campus and room with A.J. to make sure he got situated and maintained good behavior.
"A.J. and I have lived in the same room since he was born. I use to be mad because I had to share a room with this little bitty kid, so when A.J. moved here I asked Coach Porter if I could move back on campus to live with him."
Michael took it upon himself to make sure that A.J. got settled in and knew all of the good spots in Memphis. Being a veteran of the city and the football team he was proud to show his little brother around and have him back in his day-to-day routine.
"I just wish I had someone show me a tour of the city when I got here," said Michael. "That is kind of what I have done for A.J. I have kept him grounded and finished off where Mama started, once he got to college."
From the beginning, Michael had big ambitions for his academic success. At first he wanted to start out pre-med but after talking to his academic counselor he understood the conflict between practice and labs, and that maybe that route would not be the best fit for him.
In December he graduated with his bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting, and has now since started a one-year master's program in accounting.
"My daughter by far is my biggest motivation. I have sacrificed these last five years to get my education for her, to be able to provide for her," said Michael.
Just a little over a year after reporting to Memphis on March 17, 2008, Michael's world was turned upside down when a little girl named Georgia Rea was brought into the world. She completed a part of him that was missing since his mother passed away.
"Georgia Rea is the best thing that happened to me; outside of academic and football I was unfocused and when she was born she focused me and I got my life goals set up," said Michael. "There was a hole left by Mama between A.J. and I, now with Georgia Rae we have become closer as a family with her birth. She completes our family."
Michael looks back on his time at Memphis on the football field and holds on to the relationships he has made with his teammates and fellow coaches. Through the good times and bad, struggles and success, having his younger brother on the team has helped him make it through it all.
"Win, lose or draw, I still have my little brother there next to me. That is something that Mama would have loved to see. Her two boys playing college football together," reflected Michael.
While Michael has many memories playing on the Tigers' football team, making it to a bowl game his first season in 2007 and another in 2008, his proudest moments are still playing with his brother.
Michael tells his brother before games, "Tomorrow is never certain; this may be the last time you and I play together, so let's play hard for Mama."
This year's Senior Day will be an emotional one for both Antonescus.
"Anytime we have something like that and Mama can't be there for us, it's always going to be sad," said A.J. "With that being one of Michael's last games, it's going to be an emotional one."
But beyond football and academics, Michael looked to three father figures in his life to get him to where he is today, grounded and looking forward to the future.
Kenny Burton, Michael's high school football coach has supported him through his growing years and beyond. During his rebellious high school years Burton was there to get him in line and fill a void as a male supporting figure that he didn't have. Burton will be with Michael for Senior Night this season.
Another role model in his life is Steve Saxton, who Michael considers his foster dad, and is someone he calls at least twice a day.
Both Saxton and Burton are Georgia Rea's Godfathers.
Since he has been in Memphis, there was one man who looked out for Michael and took him under his wing, Mr. Bob Talley. Tally is a former Highland Hundred booster club president at the University of Memphis.
"He has been a wonderful man to me. He has put me in the right circles and absolutely influenced me and my future career," said Michael of Talley.
"Those three people have influenced me the most in my life growing up and today," Michael added.
The future looks bright for Michael as he will graduate with his master's degree in accounting in the fall and look for job opportunities to follow. But as he closes this chapter of life at the end of the season, he looks back and cherishes the time that he has had on the field playing with his younger brother.
"In my wildest dream I would have never imagined that A.J. and I would be playing on the same field together. The best way to celebrate my Mama's life is for A.J. and I to play together."