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Dunlop wears a skullcap with the letters "USMC" to honor his Marine brother, Branson. He also wears Branson's dog tags underneath his shoulder pads to honor him.

Call of Duty: Receiver Honors Brother Through On-field Apparel

As Riley Dunlop walks onto the Peden Stadium field, a burden hangs over his head and heart while he focuses on the looming game.

The receiver thinks about his brother that would be at the game if he could. Instead, his older brother, Branson, fights for his country 7,500 miles away in Afghanistan.

To honor his brother, Dunlop dons a skullcap with the letters “USMC.” Near his heart, two dog tags with “Branson Dunlop” imprinted on them are tucked under his No. 15 jersey and shoulder pads.

 “If he wasn’t there right now, he’d be here watching me,” Dunlop said. “We were so close that he gives me my inspiration to play, and especially with him being over there now, I can just take my helmet off and remind myself what I’m really playing for.”

Branson signed up for the Marine Corps Reserves before his freshman year at Miami University six years ago. He did so because he originally wanted to be in the FBI but stayed in the reserves when he decided to pursue a law career instead. Before leaving, Branson was in his second year of law school at the University of Dayton.

With only months left in his reserve stint, Riley’s brother got the call his family prayed he would avoid: his services were needed in Afghanistan, and he’d be shipped off in August to do intelligence work for the Marines.

“It was tough,” Dunlop said. “We had a few scares before, but this time it was the real thing. It was no joke this time. We all had our cries and everything.

“My mom was the worst. But it’s brought us closer together as we pray for him over there.”

Shaken up about his only brother going to war, Dunlop tried to figure out a way to honor his brother’s service.

His brother’s fiancée sent him a website that she used to order dog tags for the family. Dunlop noticed the skullcaps and knew he’d found the right item to symbolize Branson.

“They fit well under my helmet,” Dunlop said. “It worked out well and they fade quickly, so I got about 10 more after trying it out.”

With his brother being chosen in March, Dunlop decided to wear the skullcap at the beginning of spring practice. He promised Branson he’d wear it every game because he couldn’t see the receiver play.

 Although the cap is more visible, the receiver takes more pride in wearing the dog tags. The two brothers used to chest bump before each of Riley’s games. The place where their chests would meet is where the dog tags fall on Dunlop’s body.

“They’re always hanging around my neck right next to my heart,” Dunlop said. “They’re the official tags. It’s just an extra reminder. If I’m just sitting around, I can see them, and it gives me an extra way to think about him.”

When the Bobcats needed a player to run out the American flag in honor of the 9/11 victims in the game against Toledo, Dunlop was the obvious choice.

As the Bobcats took the field, an exuberant Dunlop led the team with the flag. He triumphantly slammed the staff into the ground on the Bobcat sideline and raised his arms in jubilation.

Dunlop told his brother about what happened during one of the infrequent times he is able to talk to him. He told his camp about the action and the marines stationed there decided to send Riley a signed flag that hung on Sept. 11 in honor of the action.

“They’ve all become big fans because I’ve given something to look forward to, and they love to hear about how I’m doing,” Dunlop said.

The cap and dog tags constantly motivate Dunlop as the season continues. Every time he takes off his helmet, he thinks about doing the best he possibly can to honor his brother.

“It’s extra motivation,” Dunlop said. “I love it. It makes me perform better to know that I’m performing more than just for myself. It’s for him doing things that are way bigger than any of us can even imagine.”

As the USMC letters slowly deteriorate on one of his last caps, his brother’s return constantly looms on the receiver’s mind.

Branson is scheduled to return in February for a de-briefing period in California before his service is finally over.

“To say I’m proud of him is an understatement,” Dunlop said. “He’s got more courage than anyone I know. He’s a strong dude, and I can’t do nothing but appreciate everything he is doing for our country.”

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