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Herbig family reuniting in Pittsburgh
Duo the latest brothers to join forces with the Steelers
By Dale Lolley  May 14, 2023

It's 120 miles from the tiny island of Kauai, the northernmost island of the Hawaian chain, to Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

But that's nothing compared to the 4,700 miles the island lies from the city of Pittsburgh.

For the Herbig family, Pittsburgh will now be their home away from their home on Kauai. The Steelers ensured that when they not only signed free agent offensive lineman Nate Herbig to a two-year contract in March, but followed that up in April by selecting linebacker Nick Herbig in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

All they would need to do now is hire 27-year-old Jake Herbig, a computer interface designer based in Dallas, and they would have all three of Robyn and Bruce Herbig's three sons in their employ.

That would make for one happy set of parents – though it would be difficult for the Herbig family to be more ecstatic than they currently are.

"Honestly, it really hasn't even sunk in yet," Robyn Herbig said of her middle and youngest son now both being Steelers.

"To think that all of this time, they've never played on the same team. I've never watched them on the field together. When they played together when they were little, it was an off-island thing and I didn't go with them. So, this is the first time I get to see them play together on the same team, which is wild to me."

It's the perfect Mother's Day gift to a mom – and family – that had to sacrifice quite a bit to allow Nate and then Nick to pursue their dream of someday playing in the NFL.

"It didn't feel real," Nick Herbig said of the call he received from the Steelers to let him know they were taking him. "I saw my phone ring Pittsburgh, Pa., and I was like, 'There's no way, I'm about to be a Steeler with my brother.' I picked it up and it was (Steelers General Manager) Mr. (Omar) Khan, and I started crying. I couldn't hold it in.

What did his brother, who was there with him say?

"My brother just gave me a hug and told me he loved me," Nick said.

To understand the sacrifice necessary to reach this moment, realize Kauai has a population of just over 73,000 located in its 562 square miles.

The island is known as "The Garden Isle," because much of its land mass is uninhabited, making it an ideal setting for nature lovers or Hollywood movie makers. The island has been used as a backdrop for such blockbusters as the "Jurassic Park" series, "Avatar," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Blue Hawaii" and, naturally, "South Pacific," among many others.

It's a virtual paradise dominated by the famous 10-mile long Waimea Canyon and numerous waterfalls and cool mountain streams that run down the volcanic formation.

But it's also not a place that's high on the visit lists for college recruiters.

For the 2023 school year, there were 21 public schools serving 9,792 students and seven private schools with 1,166 students on the island. Because of that, many of the classes are small. And the football teams at those schools, while not lacking in talent, don't have the numbers of some of the schools in the larger urban areas on the islands.

"As a parent, I would like to think that my husband and I are realists. Every kid says, 'I want to be an NFL football player.' And you're like, 'OK, right. Let's get through second grade first.' 'Let's try to make your all-star high school team,'" Robyn Herbig said. "We knew the boys loved the sport. It really started with Nate.

"Kauai is such a small island. He had some teachers and coaches that believed in him that were like, 'Dude, you're a big guy. Did you think about going to school?' We always knew he needed to go to camps and we needed to help him. Because if his dream was to go to college, if his dream was to play Division I football, we, as parents, would have to sacrifice some."

That led to the Herbig family looking into ways they could get their 6-foot-3, 290-pound sophomore son noticed.

He was a big fish on a small island, but would anyone notice playing at the smaller Division 2 level?

"Through our research and our due diligence, I tried to find the best possible places he could be where he could get some exposure," Robyn Herbig said. "And he needed to see if he was good enough and could compete at that level. So, we did that. When he saw he could compete, it was like a lightbulb went off in his head, 'OK, I can do this.' We told him, 'If you are willing to put in the work and the effort, we are willing to sacrifice the time, the money, whatever it takes to fulfill that dream. But you can't be complaining that you don't want get up early and catch this flight or go to workouts. This is a sacrifice on our whole family.'"

Nate understood. And it started with an offensive lineman football camp every Sunday in Honolulu.

Nate, still a sophomore in high school, would get up Sunday morning and take a flight to Honolulu for a one-hour lineman camp hosted by former University of Hawaii star Brian Derby.

The camp is a longstanding fixture in Hawaii. And Derby doesn't charge camp attendees as a way to give back to the community.

"We were blessed with family that helped take them places, helped with finances. It was a lot. When Nate was in high school, he would fly to Oahu on Sundays for a one-hour lineman camp. And it was at that lineman camp with Brian Derby, that a coach said, 'Dude, you need to move here to Honolulu. Go to St. Louis. That's where they'll find you,'" Robyn Herbig said. "It went from there. It was his sacrifice, of being willing to get up every Sunday morning, fly to Oahu for one hour, fly back. People said, 'This is crazy.' But out of that craziness, look where we are today.

"Brian Derby was hard-core. He didn't charge for his camp, but he had super-strict rules. If you missed, you're out. He was like, 'Don't have your mom call me. If your mom calls me to say you can't make it, don't bother coming back. Be responsible for yourself.'

The Herbig family got an apartment for Nate in Honolulu so he could attend St. Louis High School, which was receiving a lot of attention because of a young quarterback named Tua Tagovailoa, who was a year behind Nate at the school.

Two years later, Tagovailoa was set to sign with Alabama, while one of his main blockers, Nate Herbig was going to Stanford.

Nate Herbig was a three-year starter at Stanford, appearing in 44 games with 28 of them starts. He was twice named All-Pac-12 both as a player and academically.

After his junior season, he declared for the NFL Draft, but was not selected, instead signing as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.

At the same time, Nick Herbig, three years younger than his now-24-year-old brother, was wrapping up his own high school football journey, which also landed him at St. Louis High School.

"Nick saw all of that happening (with Nate)," Robyn Herbig said. "When it was Nick's turn, he was like, 'I can do this. Let's go.' He graduated and we put him on a plane and he went straight to workouts."

Nick's plane ride was taking him even farther away from home than Nate had gone, as he headed to the midwest and Madison, Wis.

But it also happened when COID-19 was starting to heat up, and that had some unintended benefits for the Herbigs.

Bruce is a retired high school counselor, while Robyn works for P-20, a company that does education initiatives across Hawaii and is able to work remotely.

During the pandemic, many other people chose to move to resort areas to work from home. Robyn and Bruce Herbig moved into a house in Madison during football season with Nick and didn't have to miss any of his college games.

While Nate was spending his first three seasons with the Eagles, Nick signed with Wisconsin and started all seven of the Badgers' games in a COVID-shortened season in 2020. He continued as a started the next two seasons, as well, finishing his career with 134 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss and 21 sacks in 31 career games before also declaring for the draft following his junior season.

Soon after Nick had declared for the draft, Nate signed as a free agent with the Steelers after spending the 2022 season with the Jets.

At his introductory press conference, Nate was asked about his younger brother and if he had lobbied the Steelers to draft him.

"I already came in the building screaming it," Nate said. "Like, come on, let's get him here. Nick Herbig, stud. Absolute stud. I should be his agent."

He might not be his agent, but he is already his brother's roommate. And when training camp comes around, Robyn and Bruce will be joining their sons in Pittsburgh for the season.

"I have a room in Pittsburgh," Robyn said. "When Nick was in Madison, we had a house. Nick lived there and we lived with him during football season. When we go to Pittsburgh, every time Nate gets a place, there's always a room for us. Now Nick's going to be there, as well. It works out well."

The family is just that close, something that comes from growing up in that small island community.

Family is very important.

There have been just under 800 sets of siblings to play in the NFL. But the number of siblings to play in the NFL on the same team is a bit more rare, even though it's become something of a common theme for the Steelers.

In recent years, the Steelers have had a number of brother duos on their roster, T.J. and Derek Watt, Cam and Connor Heyward, Terrell and Trey Edmunds, among them.

The Herbig brothers become the latest set in that formula.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recently took to social media to explain why the team seems to gravitate to brothers so often.

His first reason was genetics. Obviously, to play in the NFL, athletes must have the prerequisite height, weight, speed and strength.

His second reason involved something those who have or had a houseful of brothers know all about.

"There's an environmental component to our business, and the competitive spirit, your relationship with the game, things of that nature are very environmental," Tomlin said. "And oftentimes, when people hone their talents and skills that God gives them, it occurs in their backyard, in their driveway, on the playgrounds in their neighborhood. And, oftentimes that child that grew up in the bed three feet away shares similar environmental shapings and competitive spirit. I'd imagine the basketball games in the Watt backyard, for example, 20 years ago were highly competitive. And, so, those are some tangible reasons."

And Robyn and Bruce fostered that closeness with their three boys, who are five years apart in age.

"It was fun," Robyn said of raising the three boys. "My husband and I always wanted our kids to grow up and just be boys. Just play. Be rough and tough and have fun. Of course there were rules and boundaries, but when it was time to play and have fun, let's have some fun.

"We felt like they needed their own space, so they had their own room in the house where they would duct tape a three-point line on the floor and they had this little basket. They would have the little contests with three-point shooting, who could jump the farthest. The three of them came up with the craziest games. And they were the oldest of all the cousins. So the cousins followed them like the Pied Piper. It was always fun and games and family time. Being there with them together, that's what makes it so special."

It's actually a dream come true.

The family could dream about it, but to expect it, that's something altogether different. Two brothers from a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean rejoining each other in the NFL is a long shot to say the least.

Given the variables involved with the NFL Draft, the Herbig family hoped. But they didn't want to get their hopes too high.

"What are the odds? Two kids from Kauai? Through all of those draft picks?," Bruce Herbig said, proudly displaying the Steelers hat he got when Nate signed with the team. "Wow!"

The odds say it probably shouldn't have happened. The odds say just one in 1,281 high school football players make it to the NFL.

But here they are, beating the odds again.

"Absolutely," Robyn Herbig said. "It's like (Nick) said, 'It's something you talk about when you're a little kid, what if one day we can be in the NFL together? How awesome would that be?'

"As a parent, you're like, 'Yeah, yeah. If you can just make it to the NFL, how awesome would that be?' You know? When Nate went to the NFL, it was crazy. Now, it's Nick's turn, and for them to actually be on the same team is insane. People talked about the Watt brothers and the Steelers like families, but Derek Watt didn't go to the Steelers right away."

No matter how her two boys wound up on the same team, Robyn Herbig is going to cherish the moments.

She and Bruce won't have to shuttle between games next season, watching some live and others on television.

She'll never need another Mother's Day gift in her life. The Steelers and her sons have given her the best gift ever.

"Oh yeah. For sure," she said. "I don't need anything for the rest of my life. This is it."

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