As friends and family from her native Democratic Republic of the Congo sipped drinks and socialized at a wedding reception Saturday near Oakland, California, Batala Webster sat in a nearby chair, her eyes locked onto a live video feed.
An elated Batala jumped to her feet and screamed as Nsimba – a wide receiver born 2 minutes before his cornerback brother – scorched the Lumberjacks’ secondary on a 62-yard touchdown connection on EWU’s second drive.
The joy was familiar, but the circumstances were different for the mother of six. After nearly 20 years of watching the inseparable siblings team up in myriad sports, this is likely their final year wearing the same jersey.
She and her husband, Marcus Webster, are relishing every moment.
“It was my wish in life to have twins” said Batala, who will make the trip to Cheney next week when EWU plays Cal Poly. “I am very proud of them. They’re very good boys who always wanted to play together.”
Batala was a fleet-footed athlete, she said, while growing up in Kinshasa. She migrated to America in 1992 in pursuit of better job opportunities, but had a tenuous grasp of the English language.
Now, her English is as strong as her Congalese accent. She worked 16 years at Bank of America, but has since returned to school. Her husband, a career phone technician and boxing enthusiast from the Bay Area, helped raise their six children in Antioch, a bedroom community of Oakland.
When the couple learned they were having twins in 1995, they adhered to a longtime tradition from Batela’s native Bakango Tribe when naming the boys.
“With twins, Nsimba is the name of the first born and Nzuzi is the name of the second born,” said Nsimba, the former high school quarterback who has blossomed into one of the most electric wide receivers at the FCS level.
Nsimba ranks third in the country in receiving through two games, totaling 388 yards and four touchdowns. Nzuzi, a four-year starter, has boosted a defense that’s surrendering just 19 points a game.
Five years after former EWU star running back and current Buffalo Bills captain Taiwan Jones helped the brothers choose the Cheney school – Jones and the Websters prepped at the same high school, Deer Valley High – they’re looking to leave their mark.
“It’s the last ride. We have to go out with a bang,” Nzuzi said. “We want to make something historical and enjoy our time together.”
Both were recruited to EWU as athletes who later settled into their respective positions. Nsimba, whose lone Division I offer as a quarterback came from Sacramento State, is now the primary target in the Eagles’ pass-happy offense after waiting in the wings behind such talents as Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne, both NFL receivers.
Nzuzi, a two-way star in high school who did most of his damage at safety, often locked up against his brother in practice the last three years when Nsimba was an outside receiver.
Some of those battles were more heated than others.
“We’re brothers, so of course we’re going to talk a little mess to each other,” Nzuzi said. “You have to watch out for his speed. Going against him was fun, just competing with him.”
The two were both combo guards on Deer Valley High’s basketball team that featured Marcus Lee, now of the Miami Heat. At 5-foot-10, both Websters said they recorded in-game dunks.
“Nzuzi double-dribbled on his dunk,” Nsimba said. “You can find it on YouTube.”
The twins first teamed up as 4-year-old soccer players and their competitive spirit showed early, their mother said.
“They were so fast,” Batala said. “And they did not want to lose. When they lost, they were very sad.”
Not much has changed, EWU head coach Aaron Best said.
“They’re both blue-collar guys and good students,” said Best, who shares a Jan. 27 birthday with the Websters. “They’re both personable and highly competitive.”
But who is more competitive?
“Nzuzi is the more mellow of the two,” Best said. “Nsimba … he isn’t quite as mellow.”
The Websters, who are expected to earn communications degrees before the end of the year, say they’ve recently found a more quiet competitive outlet: chess.
Nzuzi introduced his brother to the game and now both use the game to challenge themselves mentally.
“He was always beating me, so I’ve dug down and really tried to get better,” Nsimba said. “It teaches you a lot. How to think ahead and prepare. Now when we play, we really get after each other.”
Batala believes competition is part of her sons’ bond, something she hopes to continues well after college.
“God has big plans for them,” said Batala, who said she often texts her sons Bible verses. “And no matter what those plans are, they will be close and do good things.”