Shaquille Murray-Lawrence was six years old the first time he stepped onto a football field. The Scarborough Thunder jersey he wore was almost as big as he was then, but once he got a taste of the game, he knew it. He was in love.
“I think just the physicality of it, maybe running around, running away from people at a young age,” he said, thinking back to the start of what’s grown into a mutually beneficial relationship. Now 22, Murray-Lawrence is in his second season in the CFL, trying to do a little bit of everything for the B.C. Lions as a backup returner, running back and receiver.
While his teammates and coaches filtered into the team’s hotel around him in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, Murray continued to think back to the start of his football journey.
“(It was) just the brotherhood, the bonding,” he said. “Especially when you’re that young and you’re able to grow up with a team, playing with the Scarborough Thunder. Then you play each other in high school, you just build lifelong friendships.”
His love of football was never in question, but there was a time in his life when Murray-Lawrence was tempted by another sport. When you’re talented enough in high school to beat a future Olympian in Brendan Rodney in the 200 metres, you need to think about all of your options.
“Football was definitely the best sport, but track was right up with it,” Murray-Lawrence said. “My last year in high school, I got a bronze medal at OFSAA, silver in the 4×100 relay. At one point it was like, ‘I could take the track route.’ ”
He looked at pursuing both sports after graduating Sir Wilfrid Laurier High School in Scarborough, but getting football and track coaches to agree on a dual scholarship proved difficult. And still, as fast as he is, he knew where his heart was. So he focused on football and jumped from junior college to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, which led to the Lions grabbing him in the third round of last year’s Canadian draft.
He was used primarily on kickoff returns as a rookie last year and led the team with 947 yards. But he had just 29 rushing yards on 20 carries and caught nine passes for 38 yards. Like many young Canadians in the league, he has been somewhat buried on his team’s roster. Chris Rainey has assumed primary return duties for the Lions this year, but Murray-Lawrence has taken eight kickoffs back for a total of 154 yards halfway through the season.
“You have to be willing to learn from the vets, see what they do,” Murray-Lawrence said. “There’s a reason why they’re veterans in this league. I learn from them.”
Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Argonauts, Murray-Lawrence had 16 carries for 44 yards and one touchdown as the Lions’ backup running back. He’d love to morph into a Swiss Army knife-type player for his team, carrying two or three substantial duties, but he knows it won’t happen overnight. For now, for this week, he’s enjoying his homecoming — he went from team meetings Tuesday afternoon back home to his parents’ place in Scarborough for dinner — and being part of a winning Lions team.
“I’m willing to take it wherever the coaches need me to take it,” he said of his role on the team. “I just want to win. Honestly, I don’t care. If that means I’ve got to hold the water bottles, squirt some water in people’s mouths, I just want to win. That’s all it is.”