The surnames Yiadom and Adarkwah have become revered in recent years at Doherty Memorial High School.
In 2013, Isaac Yiadom and Alfred Adarkwah teamed to lead the Highlanders to their first Central Mass. title in more than 30 years, and made Doherty the first Worcester city school in several decades to win a state championship in any sport when they led Doherty past Dennis-Yarmouth for the Division 4 state title at Gillette Stadium.
Throughout that season, Yiadom and Adarkwah led a Doherty secondary that made life miserable for opposing offenses, and combined to form the most lethal pair of wide receivers in the state.
Shortly after Doherty’s early December Division 4 state title win, Yiadom enrolled early at Boston College, where he currently starts at cornerback for the Eagles. Adarkwah then moved west to Amherst, to play for UMass.
Yiadom and Adarkwah became school legends that December afternoon at Gillette, the same venue where they faced off against each other Saturday, as BC defeated UMass, 26-7, thanks in no small part to a vicious hit by Yiadom that forced a Minuteman fumble.
But, back in Worcester, it is their brothers’ turn to suit up for the Highlanders, and each younger sibling is doing his best to tune out the noise and carve his own path.
“Man, it’s hard, because everybody knows what our brothers did, and they want us to be just as good,” junior tight end and linebacker Phil Adarkwah said. “But I just have to be my own player. I’m a little different than Alfred, but my goal is definitely to be as good as him.
“People around Worcester see the names Yiadom and Adarkwah and expect a lot from these kids,” Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. “But I told them they haven’t accomplished anything yet. And that isn’t a knock on them, it’s just the truth. They’re each in their first year starting. Their names are Smith as far as I’m concerned.
“They know they have to earn everything they get here, and both are hard-working and always trying to improve;” he said.
They may not invite the comparisons, but it’s hard not to see the similarities. Sophomore Paul Yiadom looks physically similar to his accomplished older brother at this point in Isaac’s high school career. He even plays Isaac’s old positions, wide receiver and safety.
Like Isaac, Paul has speed to burn, and is comfortable both catching the ball and running with it on jet sweeps. Still, the younger Yiadom is very much his own player, and is using his jersey number to both distinguish himself from Isaac, and honor his late mother.
Rather than wear Isaac’s old No. 1, or Isaac’s current No. 20, Paul Yiadom will wear No. 12 in honor of his mother, who was born on the twelfth and died Nov. 12, 2010.
That event shook up the brothers’ lives, as they moved from Virginia to Worcester to live with their father, Isaac Sr. Isaac had already been a starter as a freshman at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia, while Paul was a fifth-grader nervous about leaving his childhood home.
“It was a big change,” Paul Yiadom said. “Back in Virginia, we had open space and could kind of go where we wanted with our friends. Now, in a city like Worcester, getting places is tougher and things are complicated.”
Phil Adarkwah, meanwhile, will wear No. 16, the same number Alfred wore at Doherty. Still, the brothers’ games are far from the same.
Two inches shorter than Alfred at 6-foot-2, Phil, a junior, is wider and stronger than Alfred was at this point in his career. While the elder Adarkwah made a name for himself leaping over defenders for red-zone touchdowns, expect the younger to make a name for himself by grabbing passes in traffic and making tackles in the box on defense.
Both younger brothers have also cleared their own path on another field. Each of them has followed Phil’s and Alfred’s sister Linda Adarkwah’s lead on the lacrosse pitch, with both contributing to Worcester’s combined lacrosse team last season as defensive midfielders.
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“I don’t know how they do that, I could never play lacrosse,” Alfred Adarkwah said. “It’s crazy, but pretty cool.”
With Paul Yiadom now a sophomore, the same grade that Isaac first suited up for the Highlanders, and Phil Adarkwah a junior, each represents Mulcahy’s vision of the future of his program.
The Highlanders feature not only Yiadom and Adarkwah, but several other younger brothers of former stars. Yawin Smallwood, who starred for UConn and played in the NFL, has a younger brother on the team, Terrence Jackson, while current Bucknell freshman Tavian Vassar’s younger brother, Tajon Vassar, may end up being the team’s leading rusher.
“I think it’s a great thing that we have everybody’s brother, because it means we’ve had kids growing up, watching our program, and wanting to be like their brothers,” Mulcahy said. “That’s how you build a program, and we’re getting there. Hopefully, some day, and I probably won’t be the coach, but we’ll have dads I coached watching their sons” playing for Doherty.
But it isn’t just younger brothers watching the older guys, because both Isaac and Alfred have made it clear they’ll be checking in on their brothers this year, whether that be in person, or online.
“I’ve still got my Hudl password,” Alfred Adarkwah said with a laugh. “So I’m definitely gonna be watching Phil and Paul. I just want them to become the best players they can be, and take advantage of their opportunities, both football-wise and academically. If they get the chance to get a great education playing football, I want them to do that.”
“Oh, I’m gonna be watching them and giving my critiques,” Isaac Yiadom added with a smile. “We have a bye coming up after Clemson, so I’m hoping to get out and see them that week. … Right now, I’m stressing that Paul needs to get bigger and stronger. The football stuff is important too, but he’s really got to get stronger.”
Both Paul and Phil, who are second cousins, made the trip to see their older brothers play at Gillette Stadium, the day after they opened up their high school season with a 28-20 defeat at the hands of Central Mass. power Leominster, which was ranked 8th in the state heading into the season by ESPN Boston and is led by Duke-bound quarterback Noah Gray.
While Doherty is now 0-1, it played the highly regarded Blue Devils closer than anybody around the region anticipated. With champion bloodlines and barrels of confidence, this team of “little brothers” is already ahead of schedule.