By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Photos Contributed

Like many males growing up in Alabama, Asa and Zadyn La Breche played football. Each started with flag football in a YMCA league and then moved on to tackle football at Evangel Christian School in Alabaster. Older brother Asa played tight end and wide receiver while Zadyn played receiver and running back.

But the siblings have set out on another sports path, one that has been less traveled by young male athletes, in volleyball—the conventional indoor game and the beach variety.

“For beach volleyball, what appealed to me was … the speed of the game, the athleticism required because it’s a lot of running, a lot of repeated jumping and the strategy,” Asa says. “You’re constantly thinking about what the opponent’s doing, and you’re constantly trying to out-strategize them while in the middle of highly intense physical activity.

“Indoor is a totally different level,” he continues. “It’s even faster. The balls go faster; you jump higher. The speed of the game is just so intense. And there’s so much energy from the fans, from the players on the court. Nothing beats it.”

Indoor volleyball has specialists. There are players who attack from the front row, either from the middle, left or right. There is a setter who puts the ball where attacks can hit it, and there are backrow players who receive serve and dig out the attacks of opponents.

“But on the beach, you have to learn every single skill set, every aspect of the game,” Asa says. “You have to be good at every single part of the game in order to even stand a chance.”

He goes on to note the distinctions between beach and indoor. “You get to touch the ball every single play (in beach volleyball) whereas in indoor, since there are six people on the court, there may be some plays where you won’t get to touch the ball,” he says. “That’s kind of why I prefer beach more. You get to be more involved. You get to show your skills in every single aspect of the game.”

Asa, 18, will be on scholarship as a volleyball player at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut starting this fall, while his brother Zadyn, a 17-year-old rising senior at Evangel Christian, hopes to be a college player as well.

Each brother stands about 6 feet, 2 inches and has their older sister Zoe to thank for introducing them to the sport. The school where she played started a beach volleyball program about five years ago and invited Asa and Zadyn to play with them to see if they liked it.

“We went to a practice (and) really liked it and she kind of got us in the whole beach scene,” Asa says. “We just played with the girls for a bit. About two years ago, we realized there’s a thing called boys volleyball that’s actually pretty big. We started getting into indoor and that kind of took off from there.”

Asa and Zadyn have been road warriors during the summer, driving from state to state for beach tournaments or to train with a regional squad. Locally, especially in Shelby County, the pair is leading the growth of volleyball play among males.

Joe Aliamo, the founder and owner of Birmingham Beach Volleyball, says adults have been playing, male and female, for more than a dozen years.

The club had 50 to 100 people in its adult group but “now our Facebook group has over 1,000,” he says. “Asa and Zadyn joined us last year. There were only probably three boys at that time. This year alone we have close to a dozen boys altogether. That’s just boys ages 17 and under so it’s definitely growing.”

The brothers are on the front end of that surge for him. “We sent one other boy to play college,” he says of a player who ultimately ended his career. “But these two are on another level. In volleyball terms compared to football, they’re more like four-star athletes going to play volleyball at the next level.

“They are the real deal,” the Birmingham Beach Volleyball owner says. “Asa’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. But Zadyn, I have a five-star rating for him. He is a special kid.”

The brothers also play with and against one another and have developed a friendly rivalry in the sport. “It’s a lot of butting heads, a lot of competitiveness, a decent amount of trash talk,” Zadyn says. “We’re always pushing each other because you want to be better than the other person. We’re always pushing each other to see how far we can go.”

Asa wants to keep competing at the highest level he can and plays in a lot of adult men’s open beach volleyball tournaments.  “I want to continue throughout college and after college after getting a lot of training, to continue training and possibly go overseas and play at some indoor pro leagues or play here in the States on some of the beach tours at the professional level,” he says. “I just want to take it as far as I can and continue competing at the highest level possible and just see where it goes.”

Zadyn has his sights set high as well. “I’m currently talking to colleges, sending out emails and just going through the whole recruitment process that Asa already went through,” he says.

It’s safe to say both he and Asa have found their sport, and it’s not football.