During a chilly afternoon in Anchorage, Alaska, Dimond High School is closed for the summer — but there are two alumni back on campus using the football field. Brandon Pili runs the stairs while his sister Alissa does footwork drills on the field. They both look over their shoulders every so often checking in on their siblings playing in the end zone.
The two USC star athletes are squeezing in a workout during their busy days at home and getting ready for their return back to campus.
Brandon, a rising senior, leads one of the most talented defensive lines in the Pac-12 and is the first-ever football letterman from Alaska.
Alissa, a rising sophomore forward, led the USC women’s basketball team with 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. She was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, becoming only the fourth Trojan to win the award in program history.
When COVID-19 halted sports and sent the sibling duo home to quarantine, it was a big change for the Pilis. Both were involved in multiple sports in high school and rarely had a second to spare. The shelter-in-place mandate forced them to take a step back from competition and relax.
“When we first got here we kind of needed that little break,” Alissa said.
But before long, the two standout athletes were back training for their upcoming seasons.
“[USC] is talking about us coming back to campus,” Alissa said. “We have taken getting in shape and working out more seriously, so we are doing it on a daily basis and at a high level to be ready to get back to work.”
Brandon and Alissa are not only responsible for getting back in shape for their upcoming seasons but also for their younger brothers and sisters around the house. The two eldest siblings are often tasked with watching their six younger siblings as they schedule their workouts when they can.
“We don’t really have a scheduled time [to work out],” Brandon said. “We either have to watch the kids, run errands for our parents or we are out with the whole family.”
But for the Pilis, everything — even working out — is a family activity. Alissa and Brandon often bring their younger siblings along for the workouts.
“My dad doesn’t like us to be in different places at once,” Brandon said. “He likes us all to be together, so we usually try to go [work out] when they are at work.”
As the summer workouts continue and a return to campus nears, both Alissa and Brandon have high hopes for their upcoming seasons.
Last year, it was common to look out on the court during a USC women’s basketball game and see five freshmen playing at once for the Trojans. In a conference that had six teams finish in the AP Top 25, Alissa’s first year of collegiate basketball was quite the learning experience for her and her young teammates. The inexperienced team finished 17-14, reaching the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
“We were just kind of thrown out there.” Alissa said. “Seeing how we reacted to that in our first year in college makes us excited to see what we can do after this [with] one year under our belt.”
For Brandon and USC football, it has been an uncharacteristically tough past couple of seasons. However, Brandon believes USC has a great opportunity to do something special this year and is confident in the talented Trojan defensive line.
“Everybody knows we have [an] opportunity.” Brandon said. “To be honest with you, I think we have one of the best defensive lines in the country.”
With First team All-Pac-12 redshirt junior Jay Tufele and Second team All-Pac-12 sophomore Drake Jackson returning alongside Pili and redshirt junior Marlon Tuipulotu, it’s hard to argue with Brandon’s assertion. The Trojans have the talent and experience to dominate the trenches.
After long days of watching their siblings, Brandon and Alissa have been able to find motivation in one another while training. As the D1 athletes turned babysitters find time to work out, they continue to support one another at Dimond Field.
“I feel like we push each other,” Brandon said. “Not really competing against one another.”
This past weekend, a video of Brandon dunking over a family member in the Pili’s backyard went viral on Twitter. While Brandon does have some basketball experience, he and Alissa haven’t got around to playing one-on-one just yet.
“When we do play it’s usually three-on-three or four-on-four,” Brandon said. “But she knows what’s up with it,” he added with a glance towards his sister.
For now, Brandon and Alissa will continue to balance watching their six siblings run around the house every day while squeezing in a workout to prepare to return to school and sports at USC.