The Romans of Los Angeles High School take to the football field tonight for a scrimmage at Taft High in Woodland Hills. Seven months ago, Los Angeles High's star running back, Jamiel Shaw, died in a shooting three doors from his South Los Angeles home. KPCC's Brian Watt visited the team as it prepared for the coming season without Shaw.
Brian Watt: Here's how L.A. High's head coach, Hardy Williams, describes the player he lost.
Coach Hardy Williams: Jamiel was everything to us. He led the team prayer. He was the first one out the locker room. He was... he was L.A. High Football.
Watt: Jamiel Shaw would have been a senior this year. Williams says Shaw was small for a running back, but tried to compensate for that in the weight room. Shaw had the speed to routinely make 70-yard touchdown runs and the moves to dazzle on short 2-point conversions.
Williams: The hardest thing to do in football is open field tackling. And to get Jamiel one-on-one in the open field, you're not gonna lay a hand on him.
Watt: Williams used to call Shaw "Houdini." Now, his team is looking for new magic after the 17-year-old's death.
[Sound of football practice: "We got Taft this week! Let's go baby, switch it up. Take it down ready, stretch! One, two..."]
Rayvione Mouton: He always motivated us, you know, to, you know... It was never over with Jamiel. No matter how bad you were losing, or how tough the game was. I mean, he was just like... he was a fighter, he was competitive. So, he taught me how to never give up.
Watt: That's junior guard Rayvione Mouton. He lives a few blocks from L.A. High School. Like a lot of his teammates, Mouton's had to make an end run around circumstances that remove the men he'd hoped to rely on.
Mouton: My brother, about three months ago, he was at my grandmother's house, and some guys rolled past in a car, and they shot him multiple times, and he passed away.
Watt: Mouton's older brother Raymond had played quarterback at L.A. High School... under coach Hardy Williams.
Williams: So here you have Jamiel, and then three months later, you have a player who had played a short time ago, you know, like within a year and half, two years. And now, he's gone. You just never get over it.
Watt: Another of Williams' players this season has lost a brother to gunfire. Yet another took a bullet in his leg during a shooting three months ago that claimed the life of his friend.
Williams: You know, it doesn't get easy. It doesn't get any easier at all.
Watt: Williams has coached at L.A. High for 30 years. He visits his players' homes, shuttles them to and from practices and games, makes sure they study hard and wear dress shirts and neckties on game days.
Some of them have gone on to college, and a few have made the National Football League. Those victories help keep Hardy Williams going. But Jamiel Shaw's death still weighs him down.
Williams: I mean, Jamiel was um, a part of me. (crying) And, uh, by him not being anymore, I don't know, I guess a little bit of me died. But uh, it'll come back...
Watt: The L.A. High football team's regular season begins a week from tonight with a game at Banning High School. Williams has plans for the Romans after a light practice the day before.
Williams: I'm gonna have the fellas put on their away jerseys, and we are going to, um, walk from L.A. High, to Jamiel's house, which is not that far, and we're going to, um, put flowers on the memorial, right where he was killed.
Watt: Later in the season, Williams says the team will wear new commemorative jerseys that bear Jamiel Shaw's number 4.