The word “brotherhood” is thrown around loosely while describing teammates on a football team. Too often, that true weight of the term pales insignificant when compared to the actual definition.

But what if two teammates, who come from completely different backgrounds and walks of life, form a bond so close they become just that — brothers? Such is the case with the University of Wisconsin football team’s starting safeties Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon.

“We’re like brothers,” Dixon said. “We genuinely care about each other. I think it’s one of those relationships where you meet someone in college and you have a lifetime friendship with them.”

It is evident the camaraderie between Dixon, a junior strong safety, and Musso, a fifth-year free safety, have carried their bond onto the gridiron. The duo have accounted for nine of the Badgers’ 21 interceptions, Musso with five and Dixon with four.

Some interceptions have been more important than others. Dixon’s first one of the season, against Louisiana State University during the season opener, sealed the game. Musso’s latest, which came on Saturday against Purdue, was mostly inconsequential but his one-handed catch made highlight reels. After Musso’ second interception against Illinois, Dixon immediately found his buddy on the sidelines and excitedly proclaimed:

“Who the best safeties in this country?!”

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In the team’s comeback win over the University of Minnesota, Musso’s interception in the back of end zone sparked a four interception performance in the second half and led the Badgers to their 21 unanswered points. Despite losing by double digits for the first time in 23 games at halftime, Musso grabbed Paul Bunyan’s Axe and gave an inspiring speech that woke up the team going into the second period.

The safety position, thought to be the biggest question marks on the UW defense, if not the entire team, has evolved into one of its strengths, thanks to the efforts from Musso and Dixon.

Dixon, when asked whether or not he and Musso are the best pair of safeties in the nation, stood firm in his belief.

“I feel like we’re the best at what we do,” Dixon said. “I’m not thinking about anybody else being better than me, so of course.”

When asked what exactly they are best at, the experienced veteran made it as cut and dry as it comes.

“Keepin’ them out the end zone,” Dixon said. “Win games for our team. That’s what we do. Making turnovers is just part of it. It’s not about me. It’s not about Leo. It’s not about any individual on this team.”

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Their friendship, both on and off the field, began last season when they were both backing up the departed Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy. The paths they took to that point were so different, yet resembled each other.

Dixon, a black man, fought his way out of poverty from Florida, then battled injuries and position changes once at UW. Musso, a white, Waunakee, Wisconsin native, was one of the state’s best high school running backs statistically, but endured a shift to safety and years of waiting in the wings before he got his shot. In this time of divisiveness in the U.S., their story of friendship provides hope in what some seem as a dark time.

But it was in those practices last season with the second team, though, they realized their potential to become playmakers on the field.

“The kind of guys we are and the mentality that we bring to the game helped us gel well together,” Musso said. “We know what to expect out of each other. I think more than anything, we trust one another. That’s I guess what’s kinda been the key to our success.”

Earlier last week, UW head coach Paul Chryst raved about Musso, not just about his play but the way he carries himself as a teammate, calling him “a tremendous leader, a guy everyone could go to.”

Dixon also sees that in Musso. As to why Musso has developed into that role, he says it’s because of his roots.

“I’m a Wisconsin kid,” Musso said. “I take a lot of pride in playing for this school and playing for my home state, obviously growing up 15 minutes away from here. I guess I just kind of a good feel for what Wisconsin’s all about … we’re built up of no five-star dudes, very seldom four-star dudes, just no-star, two-star group of guys. And we have to rely on being smart, tough and dependable, as cliche as it sounds, that’s really all you can rely on.”

Musso’ collegiate career has a life span of just three more games at most. At the end of the season, one chapter of the Musso-Dixon will close. Dixon says he tries not to think about it. He’ll have one year left, and he’ll have to do it without his brother.

If he wanted to give Musso a going away present, what would it be? A Big Ten title? A special memento?

“A smile,” Dixon said.

“The wins, the gifts, the presents, it will all fade away, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “As a brother, I try to give him something more than that — some genuine love that stays with you for years.”

The two now put their friendship and dominance to the test as they travel to Indianapolis to take on No. 7 Penn State University in the Big Ten Championship game. As two guys who have been around for a couple of years, they will look to erase the memory of the last time the Badgers went to Indianapolis in 2013, a crushing defeat to Ohio State University.