MOSCOW, Idaho – Kayode Rufai is telling a story depicting his grandmother as caring and nonjudgmental.
“That’s love,” he concludes. “There are no limits.”
Finishing the thought, his brother Mujeeb smoothly adds, “It transcends distance and time.”
The close-knit Rufai brothers are a unique package deal for Idaho’s defense and an unexpected windfall from a hated rival. Originally from Portland, they made their way to the Vandals this year from Boise State. Kayode, a redshirt junior and Idaho’s starting edge rusher, spent three years with the Broncos. Mujeeb is a redshirt freshman backup free safety and a former Boise State walk-on.
The prospect of a third position coaching change at BSU convinced Kayode to seek a more settled football situation. He also wanted to keep playing football with his brother.
Mujeeb had gone to high school with Idaho wide receiver Michael Noil, who convinced the Rufais to give the Vandals a look. They were impressed. The family ties among the Vandals resonated with the Rufais, who allude to having each other’s back and being each other’s best friend growing up in some difficult circumstances in Portland.
“For a while, it was Mom holding it down. It was us and our two older brothers. We got real tight,” Kayode said.
He and Mujeeb played football and basketball together in high school as a senior and sophomore, respectively.
“It made us a lot closer,” Mujeeb said.
The business of finishing each other’s sentences is intentional. They like the reaction.
“People are going, ‘What are they doing? What’s going on?’ ” Mujeeb said.
“People’s reaction is the big thing,” Kayode added. “There’s a lot of inside jokes there.”
Including the Rufais, there are six sets of brothers playing with the Vandals. There are also fathers and sons associated with the program in head coach Paul and senior quarterback Mason Petrino; defensive line coach Luther and junior linebacker Christian and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Noah Elliss; and defensive coordinator and safeties coach Mike and linebacker coach Adam Breske.
“The culture here is family-oriented,” Kayode said.
The coaching wasn’t bad, either.
“Everybody in the game knows you can’t go wrong with (Luther) Elliss,” Kayode said of the 10-year NFL veteran defensive tackle, two-time Pro Bowler and All-America at Utah.
“I couldn’t ask for a better coach with safeties than Breske,” Mujeeb said. “He taught me football intelligence.”
Mujeeb is a sponge, soaking up knowledge from Idaho’s starting free safety, graduate transfer Davontae Ginwright, and strong safety, redshirt junior Satchel Escalante.
Vandals football characteristics are notably different from Boise State in a good way, the Rufais said. Idaho’s isn’t as financially flush as BSU, and the coaching can be intense.
“It takes a certain grit to play here,” Kayode said. “If you don’t love football, you’re not going to be here.”
Mujeeb is drawn to the “authenticity” surrounding the Idaho program.
“Sometimes you do feel like it is a business,” Mujeeb said about Boise State. “(At Idaho) from a player’s standpoint, you’re not viewed as someone to make money.”
Mujeeb also said he and his brother have adjusted to a slower pace of life in Moscow than in Boise or Portland.
“We’re kind of homebodies,” he said.
The Rufais understand the historical animosity between Idaho and Boise State, but the hate doesn’t run deep for them. Kayode remembers seeing a highlight clip from the days when the Broncos and Vandals were still playing football. Since it was a BSU tape, it showed Idaho former quarterback and current running backs coach Brian Reader getting blown up on a play.
Fierce competitions seldom intrude on their own relationship – although there was one time.
At Boise State, during a punt drill with live tackling, Mujeeb roared off the edge to block the punt and ran at full speed into his brother, part of the shield protecting the punter. Giving up 4 inches and more than 50 pounds to Kayode, physics prevailed..
“If he makes the play, he makes the play,” Kayode said. “But I wasn’t going to just let him make the play. Everybody would have said, ‘You let him make the play.’ ”
There have been no similar collisions with the Vandals. Playing on the same side of the ball, speaking as one, enjoying each other’s support, the Rufais are in agreement their move north from Boise was the right one.
“Finding the right situation and still being in Idaho,” Kayode said. “Who knew?”