By strict definition, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard and wide receiver Keenan Allen are half brothers. But they don't use a dictionary to define their relationship.
Maynard and Allen find it insulting when they aren't referred to as full brothers. They grew up in the same house and were both raised by Maynard's biological father, Scott Lang. They are extremely close.
"We grew up together our whole lives," Maynard said. "We were never known as half brothers. I don't like it. It doesn't feel right to me."
Maynard and Allen forged their relationship as kids in Greensboro, N.C., and they have brought it with them to Berkeley to play college football. Maynard, a junior transfer from Buffalo, is in his first year as Cal's starter. Allen, a sophomore, is considered one of the top young receivers in the country.
They've been playing football together since Allen was 6 and Maynard was 9. They helped Grimsley High to the second round of the state playoffs in back-to-back seasons. And now they hope to capitalize on their strong quarterback-receiver relationship to get Cal's program back on track after its first losing season in nine years.
"They just kind of have this unspoken chemistry," said Eric Kiesau, Cal receivers coach and passing game coordinator. "It's kind of a unique deal. They were playing park football when they were (young), and now they're all grown up and doing it again. And they're still kids. They laugh and have a great time when they are doing it."
Ever since Maynard joined Cal's program in the spring, he and Allen have talked about the on-field chemistry they've had over the years. Because of their age difference, they usually weren't on the same team in youth football. But Allen became Maynard's favorite target at Grimsley. And that doesn't take into account the many football games played at their grandmother's house. Cousins, friends and others from the neighborhood would make pickup football a daily occurrence for much of their childhoods.
"My mom would be working and my grandma would pick us up from school and we'd go to her house and play for the longest time," Maynard said. "We played every single day. It was a good time."
Maynard and Allen finally got to showcase their on-field bond Saturday against Fresno State. On Cal's second possession of the game, Maynard threw a deep ball to Allen in double coverage, putting it right where Allen could jump up and catch it.
Kiesau said the read should have had Maynard throwing to wide receiver Marvin Jones, but Maynard knew exactly where Allen could go up and get it.
"He just threw it up hoping I would make a big play, and I did," Allen said. "It was a lot of fun. It reminded me of high school a little bit, especially when we were out there during warm-ups. It brought back a lot of memories."
They first played together on a Pop Warner team when Maynard was 9 and Allen was 6. That's when Maynard started playing quarterback.
"I didn't know I had an arm like that," Maynard said.
In that first game together, it was pretty clear that Allen was too small. His helmet was too big for his head, and at one point the chin strap got caught under his chin and he came to the sideline crying. Lang asked him if he wanted to come out of the game and he shook his head no, his helmet flapping back and forth.
There was no better indication of their relationship than when Allen decommitted from Alabama to follow Maynard to college. Alabama was coming off a national championship, but when Maynard decided to transfer out of Buffalo, Allen told him he would go wherever Maynard chose.
"I was like, 'Wow, you're going to leave the No. 1 team and play with me?' " Maynard said. "I asked him if he was sure a couple times."
If their first college game together is an indication, Cal could have quite a pass-and-catch tandem for the next two seasons. Allen led the Bears with eight catches for 112 yards in their 36-21 win over Fresno State.
"It was kind of surreal, kind of hard to believe it was happening," their mother, Doris Lang, said of Saturday's game. "It takes you back a little bit. You think about all the hard work they've put in, and you never think you're going to get to this day, but you're here."