Keyshawn and Dayshawn Reynolds play for more than themselves when they take the field for the Atlantic City High School football team.
The first cousins continue the legacy of their uncle Jamar Reynolds, who was one of the best running backs in Atlantic City history. Famed for his toughness, Jamar led the Vikings to the 1999 South Jersey Group IV championship - the only sectional football title Atlantic City has won since the playoffs began in 1974.
Jamar had completed a successful freshman year at Kean University when he was shot and killed while driving on Route 30 in Atlantic City on June 8, 2003. He was 22.
Now, Keyshawn and Dayshawn are standout players on a Vikings team (5-1) that will host Hammonton (6-0) in a key Cape-Atlantic League game at 7 p.m. today.
With a young and inexperienced team, Atlantic City has exceeded expectation so far this year. The Vikings are in contention for a South Group IV playoff spot.
Keyshawn, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound defensive end, gives Atlantic City a physical presence it badly needs.
Dayshawn, a 6-0, 168-pound junior, is a wide receiver and defensive back with the quickness to gain big yardage every time he touches the ball.
Keyshawn wears Jamar's No. 24 jersey. The cousins think about their uncle before every game.
"Everybody wants us to finish where he left off," Dayshawn said. "They expect us to finish his dreams."
* * *
A dozen years after he last played for the Vikings and eight years after his death, Jamar remains an inspiration to many Atlantic City athletes.
"He lit up a room," said current Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly, a 1992 graduate of the school and friend of Reynolds. "Even if you didn't know him through football you knew him through something else.
"We want to keep that alive in our program. He achieved so much on the football field and he had such a personality we want our kids to reflect that."
Few played harder or with more determination than Jamar. The closer he got to the goal line, the tougher he was to tackle.
He ran for 152 yards to lead the Vikings to a 14-0 win over Brick Township - then one of the state's top programs - in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals on Nov. 20, 1999. On one touchdown, Reynolds carried three Brick defenders on his back across the goal line.
Sixteen days later, Atlantic City beat Eastern 31-29 to win the championship. The Vikings trailed most of the game but Jamar sparked the comeback with three touchdowns. He raised the state championship trophy over his head as the sun set at Rutgers University.
"No one picked us to beat Eastern," Atlantic City athletic director Frank Campo said. "That's all part of the mystique of Jamar Reynolds. Everyone knew when he was in the game we had a chance because he could a break a touchdown anytime he got his hands on the ball."
But what made Jamar even more compelling was the way he matured as a person.
He sometimes exasperated Atlantic City coaches and administrators with his off-the-field antics. But those same coaches and administrators stood by him. Jamar had a warm smile and an infectious personality that made people root for him.
"He was a little rambunctious, but you still liked him," Campo said. "His picture is on my (office) wall, and everyday I think about him."
In between graduating from Atlantic City in 2000 and enrolling in Kean in 2002, Reynolds grew up.
He spoke to then-Atlantic City players and urged them not to make the mistakes he had made.
Jamar helped coach the Atlantic City Dolphins of the Atlantic County Junior Football League. He was involved with the city's Police Athletic League.
Jamar played football and basketball with his nephews and neighborhood children in the street outside of the family's Kentucky Avenue home. He took them to wrestling matches at Boardwalk Hall and to the movies.
"He paid the kids a lot of mind," said Keyshawn's mother Shamika, who's also Jamar's sister. "He let them know they could be anything they wanted to be. No matter where they were at or where they were from."
Reynolds rushed for 971 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games as a freshman at Kean in the fall of 2002.
Keyshawn and Shamika traveled to Union County to watch Reynolds.
"It was exciting to watch him run long yards for touchdowns." Keyshawn said. "I didn't like football back then. I was always a basketball player. But that got me into it."
Jamar was named Kean's most valuable offensive player and finished the school year with a 3.6 grade point average. His career and life seemed filled with promise.
But in the early morning of June 8, 2003, Reynolds was driving a borrowed rental car back from Egg Harbor Township's King Pin Recreation, where he was bowling with a friend.
Police gave the following account of what then unfolded.
As soon as Jamar's car crossed the city line, a dark four-door sedan drove up alongside it. As both cars were moving, someone fired two shots from the sedan's passenger side with a semi-automatic gun.
One bullet stuck in the door. The other ripped through Jamar's lung and liver.
Jamar did not realize he had been shot at first and tried to keep up with the other car. He bled to death 20 minutes later, after the rental car came to a stop about a mile down the road.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Dayshawn, 16, said. "My aunt got the call. She woke up everybody in the house and told us the news. I didn't know how to react."
Keyshawn remembers everyone crying.
"I was young," Keyshawn, 19, said. "I didn't know what was going on."
No one has ever been charged with the crime.
"Whoever did that, their time will come," Shamika said. 'They took something special away from us."
The Reynolds are a large family. Jamar was the youngest of six children. Dayshawn's mother Seleema is also Jamar's sister. Everyone in the family seems to be a talented athlete. Dayshawn and Keyshawn are also standout basketball players for the Vikings.
"They're all different," Kelly said of the Reynolds family, "but they all seem to have an athletic gene that has missed other families."
Some more of Jamar's nephews currently play for the Atlantic City Dolphins.
"There's more coming, and they're real good too," Shamika said.
Jamar was born on Oct. 8. The Reynolds family gathered on that date this year to celebrate his birthday.
"We had a feast," Keyshawn said.
Some in the family visited Jamar's grave in Mays Landing.
"It's like he's still here with us," Shamika said. "We're a strong family and we stick together."
And it's nights like tonight - when Atlantic City plays a big game with his nephews on the field - that Jamar's memory is closer than ever to his family.
"Seeing (Keyshawn and Dayshawn) out there," Shamika said, "is like seeing my brother out there."
Contact Michael McGarry:
No. 4 Hammonton (6-0)
vs. Atlantic City (5-1)
When/where: 7 p.m. today at Atlantic City
Why this game is important: Both teams are in contention for playoff berths - Hammonton in Group III and Atlantic City in Group IV. Hammonton is No. 4 in The Press Elite 11.
Radio: 97.3 FM
Hammonton: Dave Williams, RB, 88 carries for 493 yards; Russ Forchion, RB, 43 carries for 301 yards; Christian Mortellite, QB, 35-of-50 for 543 yards and seven touchdowns; Bobby Barbieri, WR/DB, 11 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Atlantic City: Domaneek Hurd, RB, 36 carries for 304 yards; Ismail Naji, WR, 16 catches for 195 yards; Radi Tolbert, RB/WR/QB, 207 receiving yards, scored 10 touchdowns.
Last five meetings:
2010: Hammonton 21, Atlantic City 14
2009: Hammonton 48, Atlantic City 13
2008: Hammonton 47, Atlantic City 0
2007: Hammonton 25, Atlantic City 12
2006: Hammonton 15, Atlantic City 12