Younger brother of Boston Celtics star at home in Macomb as WIU linebacker

Western Illinois redshirt freshman linebacker Jaycob Tatum (52) will be watching Game 7 of the Boston vs. Philadelphia NBA playoff series to root on his older brother, Jayson. (Photo by Barry Bottino,

By Barry Bottino

On just about any college football team, pickup basketball games are common.

That’s no different at Western Illinois, where current New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Khalen Saunders loved to brag about his playmaking skills – then back it up – at the student recreation center in Macomb.

“Most guys on the team think they’re a baller,” WIU linebackers coach Brandon Kreczmer joked. “All my inside linebackers think they can play. (Returning leading tackler) Juan DelaCruz stands on the table saying he’s the best basketball player on the team.”

But one young linebacker, redshirt freshman Jaycob Tatum, has done plenty to stand out at rec center games.

“We play all the time,” he said. “I’m not going to bet it all on myself. I am going to put myself in the top two.”

Along with sophomore cornerback Eli West, who “has a little more speed than me,” Tatum has showed off plenty of skills on the courts.

That’s Tatum, as in the younger brother of four-time Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum, who finished fourth this season in the NBA’s MVP voting.

“I see him shooting around,” Kreczmer said of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jaycob Tatum. “He can definitely play.”

Today, the younger Tatum will be watching Game 7 of the Celtics’ playoff series with Philadelphia from New Orleans, where his mother lives, in hopes of seeing his older brother and the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Finding football

Jaycob Tatum grew up playing youth football and dabbling in basketball in New Orleans before moving to St. Louis, where his father resides, for high school.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum scored 16 fourth-quarter points to help the Celtic rally to a Game 6 playoff win against Philadelphia. (Photo by

As Jayson’s success led him to one season at Duke University before becoming the No. 3 overall pick by Boston in the 2017 NBA Draft, Jaycob assumed his athletic path would involve basketball as well.

“Growing up, I always wanted to play basketball,” he said. “I wanted to be just like (Jayson). I got to high school when I moved to St. Louis and my dad asked, ‘Do you want to give football a try because summer workouts are starting now.’

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ll just give it a try for extra conditioning. Once I got out there, I fell in love with it. With my body, I only grew to 6-2. I didn’t get much of the height.”

Jaycob Tatum thrived as an outside linebacker at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis and drew plenty of attention from college recruiters.

“He’s an athletic kid,” Kreczmer said. “He’s probably one of the strongest linebackers we have. When he hits you, you feel it.”

Changing positions

Along with adjusting to college life, Jaycob Tatum’s biggest adjustment in Macomb has been moving from outside linebacker to inside linebacker.

“My switch has been a difficult journey over this past year,” he said. “At outside linebacker, you just attack. Inside, you have to think a little bit more. You have to let things form and then you attack.”

Kreczmer, who played linebacker at WIU, said he has been pleased with Tatum’s development and his ability to pick up on the numerous decisions an inside linebacker must make.

“It’s the different reads,” Kreczmer explained. “At outside linebacker, you’re just looking at the end man on the line of scrimmage.

“At inside linebacker, you’ve got to read the guards. You’ve got to see if it’s zone. You’ve got to see if it’s a gap scheme, if the guards are pulling. A lot of it is instincts, and he’s come a long way with that,” he said. “He’s still kind of learning the position, but there’s no doubt that he’s got all the physical attributes you want as an inside linebacker.”

Tatum added: “I’ve come to the realization that I can actually do this. It’s a little more complex, but I’ve gotten used to that.”

Recruiting Celtics fans

On Aug. 1, the St. Louis Cardinals will give away a Jayson Tatum bobblehead to fans as a way to honor the hometown NBA star.

While studying and playing football at WIU, the 19-year-old Tatum said he keeps up with Celtics games as much as possible. He has also successfully recruited new Boston fans in Macomb.

“I got a couple,” he said with a laugh.

There are many more in St. Louis, where Jayson Tatum grew up and local fans closely follow his success.

“A lot of people represent Jayson because this is his hometown,” Jaycob Tatum said.

On Aug. 1, in fact, the St. Louis Cardinals will distribute a Jayson Tatum bobblehead to baseball fans.

Playing Division I football at WIU is a huge time commitment, just as being an NBA player is for Jayson. So, the two brothers – who are part of a family of seven children – don’t get to see each other too often.

“It’s kind of hard because of both of our busy schedules,” Jaycob Tatum said. “But sometimes, I’ll take a weekend off and go out to Boston to catch a game and see him.”

When Game 7 tips off, Jaycob will be watching along with his other siblings, who live in New Orleans, St. Louis, Houston and Atlanta.

“I’m happy that he made his dream come true,” Jaycob said of his brother. “I’m so proud that I can’t even explain it.”

Finding success at WIU

With a few veteran inside linebackers returning this season, Kreczmer said Tatum will serve as a core special teams player for the Leathernecks while he continues his positional transition.

Tatum’s physical nature will play a key role in his success.

“Being able to defeat blocks, he’s great at that,” Kreczmer said. “He’s a big, strong, physical kid. He’s a humble kid, too. Most people wouldn’t even know that he’s related to Jayson. He just wants to put his head down and get to work.

“He’s always asking, ‘What can I do better?’ And he’s always watching film. He’s the type of kid you want in your program.”

Tatum will return to Macomb for summer workouts on June 5 and is ready for any opportunity to get on the field this fall.

“My hopes are just bettering myself and helping my team more,” he said. “I’m doing whatever I can to become great for my team and for myself as a person.”

One response to “Younger brother of Boston Celtics star at home in Macomb as WIU linebacker”

  1. Jacob Tatum is a great kid. I know first hand because he and Jason were members and Officers of the St. Louis County NAACP Youth Council where I Advised them as one of several Advisors to the Chapter. I’m so proud of tge young man and always pleased in his accomplishments.
    Thank you
    Phyllis Knight
    Youth Advisor
    St. Louis County 49-AC


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