From the Sports Editor: A changed man — Wesley’s Earls overcomes tragedy, injury

When he graduates, Wesley offensive guard Jamal Earls hopes to better the community through a non-profit organization. (Wesley College/Angela Benefield)

DOVER — Jamal Earls’ traditions on Oct. 7 are pretty simple.

He tries to make sure he calls his five siblings and check on his mom.

Mostly, though, he thinks about his big brother, Maurice.

Oct. 7, 2009, was the day Maurice Earls was found shot to death in a New Haven, Conn. apartment. He was just 21.

“I definitely think about him a whole lot,” said Jamal. “I really just try to celebrate the fact that I know he’s in a better place.”

On this particular Oct. 7, which fell on Saturday, Earls was lining up with his Wesley College football teammates as they squared off with ninth-ranked Frostburg State.

It seems fitting. Now a 6-foot-2, 300-pound offensive guard, Earls first started playing football to help him cope with his brother’s murder.

“A lot of people play football for different things,” said Earls. “But I truly play football for my brother. I see my brother in so many different people on the team.”

Clearly, his brother’s death has had an immense impact on Jamal Earls, who was only 14 at the time.

It left the youngster frustrated and angry.

But Earls’ true life-changing moment — the one that’s really turned him into the man he is today — came a couple years ago when he was a freshman at Savannah State. That’s when a knee injury left him unable to play football.

That’s when it really sank in for Earls that there was a lot more to life than simply focusing on a game.

The Jamal Earls that suits up for Wesley every week is far different than the person he was just a few years ago.

“When I was younger, everything was football,” said Earls. “(But) when I tore my ACL, I realized that something could be taken away that quick.

“The only reason I came to college was for football. But then, when I realized what college was really about — what it can provide for me and my family — it changed my whole entire life.

“Now my outlook on things is so much different. … Now I look at things and value things differently.”

So, after transferring to Wesley, Earls threw himself into all kinds of organizations on campus.

He founded a group called ‘Leaders in Power for Tomorrow,’ whose principles are ‘lead, love, lend.’ He’s also now the president of his fraternity and a residential advisor, to help pay for school.

And he quit football.

He felt like something had to give and football was it.

“My knees were kind of hurting and then my role on campus was getting larger,” said Earls. “I was saying, what can I balance? Where am I really trying to go in life?”

Earls left the team during spring practice. He still worked out with his former teammates over the summer, though.

Then, with the Wolverines in preseason camp, a friend told him he should come watch practice.

Just like that, Earls was pulled back in.

“As a football player and as an athlete, you start to miss the game,” he said. “You start to miss your brothers on the field and competing.”

Earls talked to Wesley coach Mike Drass and got permission from the housing department to temporarily leave his job as an RA.

By the time Wesley opened the season on Aug. 31, Earls was the Wolverines’ starting left guard.

“It’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said about returning to football.

“Jamal has not had an easy life,” said Drass. “Here’s a guy who has gone through all that — and has taken some of the negative things that have happened in his life — and said, ‘I want to turn my life around. I don’t want my life to be like that. I want to go in the opposite direction.’

“I think his mom and people here (at Wesley) are proud of the path he’s taken.”

Earls said he realizes now that football is just a temporary part of his life.

It’s all the other things he wants to accomplish that truly mean something.

When he graduates, Earls hopes to better the community through a non-profit organization.

“Wherever I am in that particular time in my life, that’s where I’m going to start off,” he said. “But, eventually, we want to branch off to other colleges and other areas in need of help.”

Earls said he wants the organization’s goal to be “just changing lives. If we can change just one life a day, that’s the most important thing.”

The Jamal Earls that suits up for Wesley every week is far different than the person he was just a few years ago.

Earls said he recently talked to an administrator from his high school alma mater, Phoebus, in Hampton, Va.

“She said she couldn’t even believe it,” said Earls. “I think in high school I struggled a whole lot academically and just emotionally — just angry at different things all the time. I had a lot of frustration built up, a lot of negative thinking. It was definitely a drastic change.”

Of course, his brother’s death caused a lot of Earls’ pain — and provided his motivation.

When he took the field on Saturday, Oct. 7, Earls knew he’d probably be thinking about Maurice.

At 21, he’s the same age as Maurice was when he was killed.

“This week means a whole lot to me,” Earls said earlier in the week. “I think that’s probably what’s going to motivate me a little bit more.”

Odds & ends

Dave Manwiller, a former Caesar Rodney High football assistant coach, is being inducted into the Special Olympics Delaware Hall of Fame for his volunteer work with the organization.

Manwiller will be honored at the annual Night of Heroes event on Oct. 11 at the Executive Banquet & Conference Center in Newark.

• Dover High was recently named a winner of the Safe Sports School award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. The award reinforces the importance of providing the best level of care, injury prevention and treatment.

• The defending state champion Delmar High field hockey team is not only 9-0 but has outscored its opponents by an overwhelming 69-5.

• Baseball alumni from Dover and CR High will square off in a game on Oct. 14 at CR at 11 a.m. Each player is asked to make a $25 donation with the proceeds going to a local charity.

To play in the game or for more information, contact either of the school’s coaches: david.gordon@capital.k12.de.us or jeffrey.gravatt@cr.k12.de.us.

• The DE Turf Complex in Frederica will host the NCAA Men’s College Cup Showcase soccer event on Dec. 8-10. Last year’s event in Houston, Tex. hosted more than 130 boys’ premier and elite club teams (Under-15 through U-19) representing Mexico and 12 states.

The event is held in conjunction with the NCAA Division I national semifinals and finals, which are being played in Philadelphia. More information is available at NCAA.com/menscollegecup.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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