Even as the Sanner brothers speak earnestly about their yearly Thanksgiving break wrestling matches in their hometown of Indianapolis, they make their brotherly love and deep-rooted chemistry apparent to anyone around them.
“Every time I would come home [from Princeton] for break, I wouldn’t even say a word to him. I would just drop my bags and wrestle him. I would usually win,” Matt explained of his faceoffs with his 18-year-old brother Thomas. But at his sibling’s protests, he admitted, “[We’re] definitely more even now. When he was like 130 pounds it was easy, but now it’s harder ... I can’t lose. He can lose and say, ‘I’ve always lost!’ But even if he beats me once, it’s all downhill from there.”
Reunited once again at Princeton as members of the men’s soccer team, pepper-haired freshman forward Thomas and salt-haired senior forward Matt now share a slightly different dynamic than they did during their days as infrequent wrestling opponents. Most glaringly, the little brother now dwarfs Matt, rather than the other way around.
“He’s my big little brother ... it’s funny because he was really small growing up ... he didn’t really get to play as a freshman on our high school soccer team. Now he’s grown into a string bean,” Matt said.
“Yeah, I think I went into freshman year [of high school] 5 feet 5 inches, 115 pounds. I just sprouted. He’s right; I look a little awkward sometimes since I’m still growing,” Thomas added.
But this year, Thomas, now a staggering 6 feet 3 inches and 185 pounds, has already shared the position of team leader with his brother, albeit in an informal way. While missing what would have been his first Lawnparties, Thomas found plenty of excitement of his own on Sunday, when he scored an eventual game-winning goal in the 27th minute at Villanova, helping the Tigers earn their second victory of the season.
The Wildcats, now 5-2 and one of Princeton’s many Big East opponents this year, had few answers for Matt — who took two notably close shots to start and end the game — and more noticeably, Thomas, who now dominates Princeton’s scoring column with four points. He collected two assists earlier this month against Seton Hall, one of which went to his older brother.
Matt, an All-Ivy selection who shared the Tigers’ top spot with Antoine Hoppenot ’12 during the 2011 season with 14 points, faces some new internal competition in the early 2012 season, this time in the form of his younger brother. The team captain — the first child in the Sanner family among an even two girls and two boys — views himself not only as a brother to Thomas, but also as a fatherly figure for on-campus support.
“I’m just trying to tell him that through my three years now, I’ve made mistakes in the academic world and soccer, so I’m trying to coach him a little bit,” Matt said. “He’s his own person, and he is going to make his own mistakes, but I just want him to try to avoid the major ones that I made and point him in the right direction.”
Even from an early age, the more soft-spoken brother Thomas said, “I looked up to [Matt] as a role model because he did the same stuff that I wanted to do — obviously with soccer, and then he’s always been pretty ‘popular,’ I guess. And I definitely go to him for advice. Life advice, soccer advice, everything.”
Matt’s support for his brother peaked when they were 12 and eight years old, during a harrowing experience on the water.
“I saved this dude’s life — it was unbelievable,” Matt said. “We used to live in this house, and there was a big creek behind it, back through this field. It had rained a ton two days before ... so to us little kids, this creek seemed like a class-five rapid. My dad goes back and is like, ‘We are gonna raft this thing!’ We were so excited. Stupid idea. We go back and blow up a little four-person raft with these dumb little paddles. My brother and I, plus our sister and dad, get in this raft. My dad is not a small guy, so we try to balance out the boat with my brother and I on one side, and my dad and sister Kate on the other side.”
“Of course, we didn’t have jackets. It was like redneck rafting,” he continued. “We hit a tree and flipped under it — and this is like the most memorable moment ever for me — I just look up dazed and confused, and I look back and see Thomas. My dad just screams, ‘Matthew, get Thomas!’ I was heavier, so I guess I went downstream first. So I grab onto this tree branch, and once I catch Thomas, the tree branch breaks!”
“No, this is what happened,” Thomas claims. “We both grabbed onto a branch. He got out; I wasn’t strong enough, so I was holding onto a log but getting pushed down the river. Matt finally told me to let go when he was five feet from me, and he finally got me after I pushed him down for a while because I was rattled and trying to stay afloat.”
To add to the madness, Matt says, “This hillbilly rafting was on Mother’s Day — we went without our mom. She was obviously scared when she heard this. I still don’t think she knows the whole story; she probably wouldn’t be happy with Dad.”
While Matt has had age and size on his side throughout the years, the “big little brother,” Thomas, now provides the older Sanner with friendly competition and support of his own. As Matt embarks on his senior year and hopes to earn a spot in the 2013 Major League Soccer draft, he will lean on his “more studious” brother for both soccer and life advice. Hopefully, that won’t have to include the return of a life-saving favor.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/19/31151/