Football fans in B.C. know what Jamel Lyles is capable of.
A standout with the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers in Surrey, Lyles then enjoyed a fantastic first season at the University of Manitoba in 2015, where he was named a conference all-star at running back and kick returner and Canada West rookie of the year.
Lyles opted to return west and shocked the B.C. Football Conference by joining the Westshore Rebels for the 2016 season.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old made a statement in his first outing, racking up 308 all-purpose yards in the Rebels’ 42-34 win last week over Langley. He hopes to add to it tonight at Westhills Stadium against rivals the Vancouver Island Raiders at 7 p.m.
“He is a very dynamic back. That kid, there’s really nothing he can’t do,” said Rebels head coach J.C. Boice. “Take the last game for example.
“He caught the ball out of the backfield for us. He ran inside. He ran outside and when Langley’s really good receiver was giving us problems, coach [Shane] Beatty and I threw him in there. He hadn’t played defensive back for years and he shut him down. He’s a special kind of athlete.”
And, no, the total yardage did not surprise Boice.
“Honestly, I thought we would be able to get his ground game going even more, but Langley was very determined to deny him. The good thing is, with [fellow running back] Trey Campbell we have a great 1-2 punch. They can’t defend both. You saw how dynamic Trey can be when teams focus on Jamel.”
Lyles ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and added 18 yards on two catches. He shredded the Rams on returns where he amassed 197 yards on three kick returns (including a 98-yard touchdown) and 30 yards on three punts. Campbell ran 11 times for 112 yards and also scored twice.
As for his return to junior — as opposed to remaining in the CIS — is concerned, Lyles felt it was the best decision for him at this time.
“I had a few guys from my team come out here earlier this year and they said what they were building here with coach J.C. and coach Beatty is something special, and I said I wanted to be a part of it,” said Lyles, who ran for 2,400 yards in his last season at Lord Tweedsmuir and scored 47 all-purpose TDs.
The transition to university appeared seamless as he totalled 1,564 all-purpose yards at Manitoba, second in the country.
“I’ve always held myself to higher standards so when I got to U of M it was an easy transition, in a sense, because I had older guys around me who made sure I was going to be physically ready. I credit that to a lot of my peers and teammates at U of M, who had me ready to play,” said Lyles.
“I kept it quiet,” he said of his departure, joining the likes of Ashton Mackinnon, Christian Krause, Aarmin Purewal and Kent Hicks as ex or future Bisons, who decided to join Westshore in the last two years. “I’m excited for the road ahead of me.”
Asked what his goals are, Lyles spoke from the heart.
“I’ve always said this and I will continue to say it, I want to try to get down south to Division I [NCAA], hopefully get to the NFL and my big goal is to get into the NFL Hall of Fame. It’s a big dream,” said Lyles, the BCFC special teams player of the week.
“I’m a big believer. J.C. has great connections down south and I believe in what he’s preaching here. He’s not only building men on the field, but off it, too.”
As for tonight’s matchup, it promises to be an interesting one.
Despite never having beaten the Raiders since the team moved from Victoria to Nanaimo in 2005, the Rebels believe this could be the year.
“I love it that the rivalry is relevant,” said Boice, careful not to overhype it. “This one isn’t out of hand before the game starts. No one knows who is going to win this game. The Raiders don’t and we don’t and that’s what you want. It’s going to be a lot of fun for fans to come down here and see how the night unfolds.”