nathan and caleb sturgis
USA TODAY Sports

Caleb and Nathan Sturgis offer rare connection between Major League Soccer and NFL

The career paths of Nathan Sturgis and Caleb Sturgis diverged sometime long ago, but the end result of their choices has resulted in the same career path: a career in football.

Check that. Maybe it’s football?

With the Major League Soccer season in full swing and the NFL about to start in earnest this weekend, the Sturgis brothers are entering their second year as only the second ever MLS-NFL brother pairing in the leagues’ history after Terry Boss (ex-Sounders goalkeeper) and Kevin Boss (best known for his years as tight end for the New York Giants).

Nathan, a midfielder for Chivas USA, and Caleb, a second-year placekicker for the Miami Dolphins, both use their feet for a living, mostly because they were shaped by soccer in their youth. The Sturgis brothers vividly remember packing the family car along with four other siblings to get to practices and games, and they now juggle rooting interests depending on the day of the week.

“We grew up a soccer family,” Nathan says. “We all played soccer all the way through high school, and Caleb was the only one that broke off into another sport. We were all strictly soccer and very good at whatever sport we played, but soccer is what we did. That’s what we had the time and resources for.”

The connection between kickers and soccer players is a common one, but it's rarely been seen at the highest level.

Former Seattle Sounders forward Nate Jaqua's father, Jon Jaqua, played safety in the NFL. Devin Barclay played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United and Columbus Crew prior to kicking for Ohio State, while the Crew’s Justin Meram briefly kicked for the Michigan Wolverines.

Former MLS goalkeeper Josh Lambo was drafted by FC Dallas in the 2008 SuperDraft but is now a placekicker for Texas A&M, and US icon Tony Meola played for the New York Jets for three preseason games after the 1994 World Cup before he was cut.

Nathan (right) excelled early in soccer, starring at the club and high school level in the St. Augustine area in northern Florida before heading south to join the US Soccer residency program. He then chose to attend Clemson and ended up in MLS, where he has played for seven teams in eight years.

Caleb, who’s two years younger, had a close look at his brother’s path and picked a different one.

“Really, we didn’t have much of choice of what sport we could play,” Caleb says. “My older siblings played soccer, so that was really the only thing we could play competitively. Our parents could only take us so many places, and that was the soccer fields. Fortunately, I was able to see Nathan play and see him go through ranks, and where it changed for me was during his recruiting process.”

Caleb (right) realized how few scholarships there were to distribute in college soccer and saw a golden opportunity on the gridiron. He gave football a shot his sophomore year, but only after making sure it would not interfere with the club soccer season.

“I don’t think I would have made it [to MLS],” Caleb says with a laugh. “Nathan had a good amount of choices where he could go to college on full ride, but I know I wasn’t on his level, so it might have been a longer route for me. I stood out more in football than I did in soccer.”

Caleb earned a scholarship to kick for the Florida Gators and showed enough in college to become the first place kicker selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.

“It’s hard to tell what would have happened if Caleb would have put all his concentration on soccer,” Nathan says. “But in the end, he probably made a good choice.”

Caleb and the Dolphins kick off their season Sunday at home against the New England Patriots. Nathan will take the pitch against the Crew on the same day about 1,200 miles away, though his younger brother believes he could have easily been kicking a different ball on Sundays.

“Nathan might have even been able to kick field goals with either foot,” Caleb says. “It didn’t matter what sport we went out and picked up -- basketball on the driveway, throwing the football around, whatever -- Nathan was good at it. He’s just one of those athletes, and I think kicking field goals would have been an easy transition for him.”