When they were youngsters growing up in Jersey City, Maurice Lyles and Devon Shaw would naturally gravitate to Gateway Field off Grand Street to play football. It wasn’t the organized variety, with full equipment and uniforms. Nope. This was the choose-sides, grab hold of a shirt, unsupervised tackle kind.
“We would just get together and play at Gateway,” Shaw said. “That’s where I first played football and Maurice was there all the time with me. I think that’s where we first learned about football.”
When it came to go to high school, the two friends went separate ways. The burly Lyles went to Snyder High School, while the diminutive Shaw decided to go to Ferris. Of course, both continued playing football with a great amount of success, at their respective schools.
Lyles was a standout two-way lineman for Snyder on a team that really didn’t have that many standouts and didn’t enjoy many victories either. Still, Lyles was there every day, making a name for himself among the tough times.
Shaw was a fine running back and defensive back for the Bulldogs of Ferris, leading the team to two consecutive winning seasons, earning a berth in the NJSIAA Group III playoffs in 2005 (the school’s first post-season appearance in over a decade) and just missing a return trip a year later.
Both friends were named to the Hudson Reporter All-Area team last fall and made their respective marks on their programs.
But through all that time, the two never had a chance to be teammates. They certainly played against each other every year. Shaw has deep-rooted memories of that.
“Maurice got a chance to tackle me a few times,” Shaw said. “Believe me, I won’t forget that.”
Especially since Lyles weighs close to 300 pounds and Shaw stands about 5-foot-8 and weighs about 175. When someone that big hits you, you’re bound not to forget it, even if he’s a childhood friend.
For ages, players from Snyder and Ferris have been overlooked when it came to the summer All-Star games like the Governor’s Bowl (which has recently been renamed) and the New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Association’s annual North-South All-Star Classic, which has been a part of the state’s football fabric for almost 30 years.
For example, Snyder hasn’t had a player participate in the North-South game since 1991. Ferris’ last representative was All-American Lamont Jeter a few years later. It’s been more than 10 years since either school was represented in the summer classic held at Rutgers Stadium.
Until now. Both Lyles and Shaw will finally be teammates in an organized football game, this one on the grandest stage. They were selected to play for the North squad in the 29th annual North-South game, being played this year June 28 at Rutgers Stadium.
Lyles and Shaw headline a solid contingent of local participants in the game, joining Ravi Pradanhang of St. Peter’s Prep, All-State running back Damien Bates of Hoboken, Cesar Angulo of Union Hill and Cory Hernandez of Emerson.
The teams were announced at a press conference at the Hale Center near Rutgers Stadium on Sunday.
Shaw said that he was happy to be on the same team with long-time friend Lyles, but was also pleased that he was getting a chance to show his talents to the statewide audience.
“Maurice is a good friend and it feels good to make this team and be on the same team with him,” Shaw said. “When I found out I made the team, I was very proud. All I could so was smile. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Lyles was equally overjoyed.
“I’m extremely excited to be selected to play in the game,” Lyles said. “I really wasn’t thinking about getting a chance to play in the game, because Snyder players don’t necessarily go. When I was told by my coach (Keith Price) that I had a chance (after being nominated), that’s when I got excited. When I heard I made the team, I got even more excited. It’s a great opportunity and it should be a good experience.”
Shaw is headed to Hudson Valley Community College, a junior college, with the hope of hooking on with a four-year school later on. Lyles received a scholarship to Southwest Missouri State, a program coached by Jersey City native Tony Samuel, the former head coach at New Mexico State. Lyles will play defensive tackle in college.
“I think this will be a good experience and good competition for me before I go to college,” Lyles said. “I’m the first one to represent Snyder in a very long time, so I have to step my game up and make sure I make my presence felt there.”
As for tackling Shaw again, Lyles hopes he gets a chance, even if he’s a teammate.
“He’s pretty fast,” Lyles said. “He’s always been fast.”
Shaw feels like he has something to prove as well.
“I have to make a name for myself in this game,” Shaw said. “It’s my last high school football game. I have to make the most of it and show people I can play. I have to prove that size doesn’t mean anything. Getting this chance shows me how good I can be.”
Bates, who was under consideration to play in the Governor’s Bowl, but was passed over because he didn’t have a Division I scholarship lined up, said that he was happy to get a chance to play in the North-South game.
“It’s a special feeling,” said Bates, the Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year last fall, breaking the Hudson County scoring record en route to winning the state scoring title. “I feel very proud to make this game with everyone in this county. There are players here from all over the state and we have so many good players here making this team. I’m glad to get a chance to play and represent Hoboken one more time.”
Bates will head to Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas in order to become academically eligible to play for a four-year school. More than likely, Bates will play at the University of Kansas once he completes his necessary requirements at Hutchinson.
“I’m looking forward to playing in this game,” Bates said. “It’s great that we have all these talented players coming from Hudson County.”
Hudson County had the largest number of representation of players in the game.
Angulo, who will head to William Paterson in the fall and play linebacker for former Hoboken head coach Ed Stinson, was surprised that he was selected to play in the game.
“I didn’t think I’d get picked, so when I heard I was going to the game, I was very happy,” Angulo said. “It was very unexpected. I only started playing football as a sophomore, so I’m a late bloomer. For me to get picked to play in this game is a real big honor. It’s going to give me a chance to experience what I can expect in college, playing in a game with great players. It’s a preview to what I’m expected to become in college.”
The six players will head to Rutgers on June 23 to begin a series of two-a-day practice sessions before the game on June 28.
“It’s going to be great,” Lyles said. “I’m getting a chance that kids from Jersey City don’t normally get.”
Especially those who started playing tackle football as toddlers. Maybe it’s a fitting way for Maurice Lyles and Devon Shaw to end their high school careers, on a grand stage in front of a statewide audience.