When he’s not bursting by defensive linemen, stiff-arming linebackers or barrelling over safeties, the B.C. Football Conference’s leading rusher enjoys the quiet and tranquility of gardening.
“It’s peaceful. It’s time to myself, time to think and time to reflect,” says Jamel Lyles, the first-year Westshore Rebel who’s quickly, and literally, becoming a runaway candidate for the league’s Outstanding Offensive Player award.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Lyles, often the loudest guy in the room according to his teammates, is also deeply reflective.
His determination isn’t spurred on by the typical athlete narratives; the doubting high school coach, the college recruit that says he’s never going to make it or the prospect of fame and fortune. Then again, Lyles does say his ultimate goal, however lofty, is to play in the NFL and make the Hall of Fame.
None of these are a part of the conversation when I ask Lyles to explain his list of motivations. Instead, it’s the plight of others that inspires him.
“One thing that really gets to me is kids with disabilities from birth. They never really got the opportunity to be able to pursue different things … They never got to experience sports to the fullest. That’s always in the back of my head whenever I’m strapping up or I’m in the weightroom.”
Lyles, while engaging and thoughtful with his answers, is mostly quiet and reserved throughout our pre-practice interview.
According to his teammates, that’s only how he is when meeting someone new. In the locker oom, Lyles is bursting with energy. Confident, but never cocky.
“He’s loud. You know when Jamel’s in the building,” says receiver Lerenzo Ihanza. “He has that presence that’s hard to miss.”
“He’s very enthusiastic. When he gets into something, he’s in it,” says guard Christian Krause.
On the field, Lyles has virtually transformed a Rebels team that floundered in 2015, scoring just 205 points in a 2-8 campaign. The team is sitting firmly in second place at 4-1 following last weekend’s 47-23 win over the Valley Huskers in Chilliwack.
His speed, power and versatility – Lyles returns kicks and filled in as a defensive back in Weeks 1 and 4 – makes him a weapon in multiple facets of the game.
In his first four games this season, he had piled up 697 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while averaging a chain-moving 8.5 yards per carry. His early season dominance had him a full 287 yards ahead of the league’s second-best rusher, Nate Berg of the Vancouver Island Raiders.
Blocking for him “is awesome,” says offensive lineman Krause. “You know he’s going to hit that hole hard … You make your block and you know he’s going to read you right and get that big play when we need it.”
Ihanza, tasked with trying to block for Lyles further downfield, has a different take.
“It’s difficult. You don’t know where he’s going; he could go anywhere. He could be on the left side one minute and two seconds later he’s on the right side,” Ihanza said, laughing.
Lyles credits himself with good breakaway speed and “decent” vision.
“When I see a hole I like to hit it, and hit it hard and fast,” he says.
Krause can vouch for that from both sides of the line. The Mount Douglas grad used to play on defence and line up against Lyles, then at Lord Tweedsmuir in Surrey.
“Honestly, he probably hit me as hard as I’ve ever been hit before,” says the 6’6”, 305-pound lineman. “I met him in the hole one play and he dropped me.”
It’s that physical aspect that Lyles hopes to continue to improve upon, which is probably the last thing his opponents want to hear.
“I want to be able to develop into more of a power back in a sense and put on a little bit more weight as I grow up,” says Lyles, who is listed at 5’11” and 205 pounds.
It’s a future he hopes will include the big stage of the NCAA and later the NFL.
Last year Lyles was named the 2015 Canada West Rookie of the Year after bursting onto the scene with 719 rushing yards and 130 receiving yards as a Canadian Inter-university Sport rookie for the University of Manitoba Bisons. He says the CIS experience was a good one, calling his year in Winnipeg a “turning point” for his career.
“Playing in the CIS made me realize that I could probably pursue my dreams down south, maybe next season,” he says.
That’s a big reason why he made the decision to join the Rebels, as playing junior football will save him a year of NCAA eligibility, leaving him with three should he get the opportunity to take his talents to the States.
“It’s nice to be back home for a little bit before I pursue (an opportunity) somewhere else,” he adds.
After the interview is completed and the camera and notepad are packed up, Lyles sprints off the field, hops the fence and bounds into the stands.
Before getting into practice mode, however, he stops to offer one more thing, shaking his head in disbelief that he forgot to mention it earlier. It’s that he wouldn’t have had an ounce of success this year without what he deems to be a CIS-caliber offensive line.
“They’re huge right now,” he says.
Before the extra thought is jotted onto the notepad, Lyles is back on the field.
He quickly jumps right into opening calisthenics drills in a practice that’s just one small piece of a much larger puzzle for a man who’s got a big personality and even bigger dreams.