Brothers Stefon and Trevon Diggs push each other to greater heights

NFL

Stephanie Diggs thought she had seen it all from her son Stefon.

“I’ve never seen Stefon that excited,” Stephanie said. “[He was like], ‘Mom, Mom, Can you believe it?'”

Not only did the Buffalo Bills wide receiver make his second consecutive Pro Bowl, but his younger brother — Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs — made his first in his second season in the league. After the announcement, about 15 family and friends from around the country gathered on FaceTime to celebrate.

For the Diggs’ family, the selections validated a season of success beyond what they could have dreamed.

“[Both of us making the Pro Bowl is] probably one of my favorite moments of this year, for real, because that’s my brother,” Trevon said. “I love him to death and just being able to go up there with him, that’s fire.”

While Stefon’s success and star power has been on display for the last few years, Trevon’s emergence has just begun, finishing the season as the league’s leader in interceptions (11). Stefon’s support through the years helped him get there.

“I was just more proud than anything,” Stefon said. “I was more happy for when I heard about him [making the Pro Bowl], because I knew he was going, but I still wanted to see it. I saw his picture and I saw his face, I saw him in the Cowboys [jersey], I’m like, yeah, that’s my little brother.”

But the brothers have postseason games first. Their teams are the No. 3 seeds in the AFC and NFC. Trevon is in for the first time in his career with the Cowboys hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS), while Stefon helped the Bills win a second straight AFC East title, and a matchup against the New England Patriots awaits Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, CBS).

The Diggs brothers have yet to play each other in the NFL. That could come in this year’s Pro Bowl. Another option would be if both the Bills and Cowboys found their way to the Super Bowl.

“That’ll be cooler,” Trevon said.

A family affair

A smile spreads across Stefon’s face when his youngest brother comes up. The receiver, who is expressive and often winks knowingly during news conferences, can’t hide his love for Trevon, 24.

“I feel like that’s probably my son. He’s my little brother, but I feel like I raised him,” Stefon, 28, told ESPN. “We kind of like grew up together and that’s somebody that, like my mom, I hold so close to my heart.”

Their father, Aron Diggs, died of congestive heart failure in January 2008 when Trevon was just 10 years old. In between Stefon and Trevon is their brother Mar’Sean, 26, who played cornerback at UAB. They also have an older brother, Aron Jr., and older sister, Porsche. With Stephanie having so much on her plate to put her children in the best position possible after Aron’s death, Stefon took on a father-figure type role to Trevon.

“When my husband passed away, literally you know how people at a funeral say, ‘You’re the man of the house. You got to watch your brothers,'” Stephanie said. “So [Stefon] kind of took that literally.”

Both boys excelled at football. Stefon was ESPN’s No. 13-ranked recruit in the 2012 class. He chose to go to nearby Maryland to play football even with offers from Ohio State, Florida and other major programs because he wanted to stay a short drive from his family in Gaithersburg.

Trevon took a different path in 2016, signing with Alabama — despite an interest in going to art school, something Stefon said could wait until later. While at Alabama, Nick Saban convinced him to switch positions from wide receiver to cornerback.

Stefon was a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 and found success before getting traded to the Bills just before his brother was selected in the second round by the Cowboys in 2020.

The two have always had different personalities, with Stefon being more extroverted, often taking over a whole room. Trevon kept to himself.

“Tre was a little younger, so he was a little bit quieter when I was around him,” said Bills cornerback Levi Wallace, who was teammates with Trevon at Alabama. “Stef is just outgoing.”

But the stark differences in personality have lessened over time. Trevon is talking trash for the first time in his life and coming into his own.

“Now it’s like, [Trevon] has his voice, he has things to say, he has things to add,” Stephanie said. “Stefon really values his opinion now.”

They talk on the phone daily about everything from football to family, and Stefon makes a point of watching Cowboys games or checking his phone for live updates whenever he can. Their father was a Cowboys fan, so Stefon also was as a kid.

“My little brother plays for the Dallas Cowboys, so one day a week, only one day, I say, ‘How about them Cowboys?'” Stefon said. “But other than that, ‘Let’s go, Buffalo.'”

As much as 2021 has been Trevon’s breakout season, his 5-year-old son Aaiden has become a star. It started on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” when he confused quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes, and continued with him appearing on several networks while also taking pictures with Cowboys fans before, during and after games.

All his father did was end up leading the NFL in interceptions.

“No. 1, we know that there’s some definite stars with Tre and with Stef, but there’s another star in that house,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who tried to recruit Stefon to the University of Florida. “[Aaiden] may not have his time for a few more years, but seeing that kind of enthusiasm and love, it’s really cool to see. When he gets so excited, it’s just a really cool thing.”

Trevon gave Aaiden a lot to be excited about. But the preparation began way before the games started.

Relishing the offseason work

Brandon Marshall played 13 seasons in the NFL, catching 970 passes for 12,351 yards and 83 touchdowns. He was selected to five Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro once. He knows what an NFL player looks like.

Marshall now owns House of Athlete in Weston, Florida, where Stefon and Trevon Diggs train in the offseason.

Stefon Diggs is special in a lot of ways but where he’s one of the best in the world in any sport, male or female, is his approach to the work,” Marshall said. “There’s only a few guys I was around in my career where I said, ‘Oh, this is why they’re successful.’ Stefon Diggs is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best version of himself. The tenacity, the work ethic, the attitude. Some guys like to work hard and some guys like hard work.”

Stefon loves the hard work, which means Trevon had to learn to love it as well.

“My first year, I was just trying to figure things out, the momentum of things, how to maintain and go at a pace and learn everything,” Trevon said. “It was like a little trial run. My second year, I know when I go to camp, where I’ve got to be and I could plan accordingly and take in things to cater to me and my training.”

There might have been an older brother shove in that direction.

“Stef is definitely the role model, the big brother/father figure type,” said Troy Jones, House of Athlete’s director of Education & Science, Pro Strength Training. “Early on with Trevon, I think it was, ‘OK, I’m going to show you the way,’ especially the first year. The second year he was like, ‘OK, I’m going to show you the way and now you’ve got to take it on your own, like, ‘I can show you, but you’ve got to do it by yourself.’ I think that clicked.”

Last February, Trevon followed the lead. At least five days a week under the hot Florida sun, they trained together. Most days started at 9 a.m. and the workouts lasted about five hours. They would follow that with more position specific work on their own.

Marshall remembers Stefon and Trevon being among the last to leave the facility.

“Stefon was challenging him and Trevon was meeting that,” Marshall said.

To Trevon, the most difficult was the speed work on the treadmill. If Stefon went fast, Trevon wanted to go faster and vice versa.

“You’ve got to hold your speed,” Trevon said. “And we do it at the end (of the day) so it’s intense.”

Wherever the Diggs are, they make sure they work opposite of one another.

“It’s replicated to how he plays offense and I play defense,” Trevon said. “When he’s in the receiver drills, I’m matching it. We’re still going to compete and try to beat each other. When we go, it’s intense.”

Maybe not close to fisticuffs, but enough to get under each other’s skin.

“People just don’t know how hard they train and what they do to take care of their body,” their mom, Stephanie said. “They don’t see all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, and your mental and spiritual can get lost and you’re so busy. Just try to keep them grounded.”

When they vacation together, they work out almost daily, including a trip to Cabo last offseason.

“No matter where we go, we always bring our cleats with us,” Trevon said. “Our cleats is a must have … Our friends are used to it. We’ll wake up, go train real quick. It’s just what we do. Maybe someone on the outside looking in, they maybe think we’re a little nuts.”

Their seasons could end this weekend or in a month, but they know where they’ll be starting next offseason. Cleats in tow.

“At this point, he doesn’t have to say anything to me,” Trevon said. “It’s already understood. I can read his mind by following him and following his actions and the things he’s done. This is how I’m supposed to go. He gave me enough game.”

Trevon puts his 11-interception season on the hard work Stefon has led him through. There’s no reason to change anything now.

“Trevon had to learn that; Stefon had that,” Marshall said. “Now they both have it.”

The hard work pays off

Trevon opened the season with an interception of Tom Brady and would go on to have at least one interception in each of the first six games, tying an NFL record.

While nobody could have predicted 11 picks at the start of the season, the Cowboys thought Trevon would have this kind of impact. Coach Mike McCarthy goes back to the final training camp practice of Trevon’s rookie season when he had at least four interceptions.

“Like I told the whole team that day,” McCarthy said, “I’ve never seen a rookie in all my years have a practice like that, particularly in the two biggest competitive periods of the day. I think it was definitely a prelude to what was ahead. I hope he keeps going because he’s a special player.”

In 2020, Trevon led the Cowboys with three interceptions, but by his count he should have had at least seven because of drops.

Last summer, in the first real practice of training camp in Oxnard, California, Diggs intercepted Prescott, perhaps setting the tone. He became the first defender in 40 years to reach 11 in a season since Everson Walls of the Cowboys, and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Stefon knew his brother was ready for a second-year jump.

“We had that conversation many times,” Stefon said. “He showed a lot of potential last year. He went against every good receiver in the league. I was just like, ‘Man, you’ve seen everybody. You’ve played against everybody,’ as far as building that confidence and being able to play with anybody. He had some success, too, as a young player, so I was like, ‘Just carry that over and go in with the right mindset.’ He did it to the maximum.”

Yet Trevon admits he is “still 100% not comfortable,” playing cornerback. He moved there in his second season at Alabama. He wanted to remain at receiver until a talk with Stefon convinced him it was the right thing to do.

Once again, listening to Stefon paid off.

“I’m still learning honestly,” Trevon said. “And I still got a lot of work to do but for the most part, I’m just working. … I really don’t know how [long] it’s going to take but I’m looking forward to it because it took me all my life to master wide receiver.”

Stefon has mastered the receiver spot. After his trade from the Vikings, he led the NFL in receptions (127) and yards (1,535) in 2020. He followed that up with 103 catches for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and his second straight Pro Bowl selection. The Bills know his value as a leader, naming him a captain this year.

“I want to try to throw it to him as much as much as possible because with the ball in his hands, you never know what’s gonna happen,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said.

On Saturday against the Patriots, Stefon will play in his ninth playoff game. Trevon was in the stands when Stefon’s touchdown produced the Minneapolis Miracle in the Vikings’ playoff win against the New Orleans Saints. Last January, he was in the stands at Arrowhead Stadium when the Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

“It was so cold,” he said.

No one around him that day but family knew he was the Cowboys’ cornerback, but he looked at the field with one thought:

“We got to get here,” he said. “We got to get here.”

On Sunday, Trevon will play in his first postseason game with the Cowboys.

“It’s time to turn up more than I did during the season,” he said.

And maybe in a month at SoFi Stadium at Super Bowl LVI the Diggs brothers will have a chance to play against each other for the confetti.

“We have spoke about it,” Trevon said. “We just think that would be really dope, really competitive and something that would be exciting. Hopefully it happens.”

What would Stephanie do if her son’s played against one another? Split jersey perhaps?

Stefon said he wants her to wear his, though there are some in the works through Trevon. But if a matchup happens, Stephanie isn’t shying away from having a rooting interest.

“Since Stefon talks so much trash, I want the little brother to take the big brother,” Stephanie said.

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