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Every practice, every game, every snap, every step, is a tribute to a life taken much too young.
It was March 6, 2007 and Shamawd Chambers was working out, like he did most days after class let out at Markham District High School. But on that day Chambers knew, deep down, that something just wasn’t right. Much to his dismay, Chambers feeling wasn’t wrong.
His brother Jonathan Chambers had been kidnapped and was held captive in an apartment before he was fatally shot to death in the early morning hours of March 7.
“Before he died, only some people who have experienced this would know, when someone very significant to you dies, you can almost sense that something is going to happen,” Chambers, currently in his fourth year as a receiver for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, said of his brother’s tragic passing.
“Your soul is crying out, there is a certain weakness that you have where you feel like you can’t do anything. It was almost like my soul was crying out to God, pleading with God for my brother’s life.”
Jonathan was reported missing for 12 hours before the police found his body and detectives arrived at the Chambers’ residence to deliver the somber news.
“They told us that he was murdered and he was shot five times,” Chambers said.
Almost five years have passed since the day Jonathan had his life stolen away from the Chambers family, his younger brother Shamawd was just 17 – a number which connects Chambers to his brother in more ways than one.
He has the number one tattooed on his left arm and a seven on the right. One stands for the day his brother was born, back in March of 1985, and seven represents the day his brother passed away.
Combine the two numbers and you get 17, the day Jonathan was buried in March 2007 – 17 became the number on every football jersey Chambers has pulled over his head since 2007 – a tribute to his late brother.
“I will be honest with you, there will be times that I’m playing in a game and I will look at the score clock and it will be 17,” Chambers explained. “I will look in the stands and I will see 17, I see 17 in so many different places.”
Chambers recently added ‘blinks’, his brother’s nickname, and the phrase, ‘the good die young’, as permanent tributes to his brother on his body – inside his biceps.
Ever since his brother’s passing Chambers has approached life and football with a different energy – he believes his brother is with him spiritually and physically, from the permanent ink on his skin, every day.
“I sat down with myself after my brother passed away and I thought about what would my brother think about me just stopping [not playing football anymore],” Chambers, who is now 22, said. “I decided that I was going to go and make it happen, and now here I am today.”
Chambers has certainly ‘made it happen’ over his four seasons at Laurier, he was a freshman phenom in 2008, catching 37 balls for 491 yards and five touchdowns.
Twice Chambers has been named an OUA All-Star and his talent hasn’t gone unnoticed by scouts at the pro football level. In fact, this past summer he was invited to take part in the annual CIS East West bowl, a gathering of the nation’s elite CFL draft prospects.
Chambers lit up the testing portion at East West. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash at 4.36 seconds and impressed scouts with his big frame. Also, his athleticism was on full display during the game to wrap up the week.
Furthermore, he led all receivers with five catches for 84 yards and one touchdown – the only receiving score on the day.
“I was able to see the other players in the nation, the nation’s best and really compare myself,” Chambers said of his East West bowl experience. “That was when I really understood what I was capable of doing. That’s when it really clicked in that there was a possibility of playing at the next level.”
Chambers would have another chance, after East West was finished, to compete against other nation’s best football players. He suited up for Team Canada at the 2011 IFAF Senior World Championship of American Football, which took place in Austria from July 9-16.
Chambers helped bring home a silver medal for the Canadian side and he was named to the first team All-Tournament team after recording 20 catches for 248 yards.
As if the past summer wasn’t already busy enough for Chambers, between preparing to be evaluated at the 2011 East West bowl and representing his country – Chambers made two trips to Florida to train with a number of current NFLers.
Current San Diego Chargers defensive lineman and former Western Mustang, Vaughn Martin witnessed Chambers’ flashy performance at the East West bowl and told Chambers he had to come to Florida to train with him – Chambers and Martin had become friends after competing against each other during Martin’s years in the OUA.
So during the last week in May and for a week and a half in June Chambers had a chance to rub shoulders with greatness.
“I went to Florida with Vaughn, he brought me down there to train with Tony Villani at XPE training,” Chambers explained. “I got to train with Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Kareem Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jacoby Ford the names go on and on. I learned from Chris Carter and I met Andre Johnson.”
Chambers was put through weight and on-field workouts where he ran pass patterns against NFL defensive backs.
“I ran routes against Eric Berry and Kareem Jackson and they weren’t above and beyond faster than me. They weren’t above and beyond stronger than me,” said the 6-3 219-pound Chambers.
“Eric Berry was complimenting me, he couldn’t believe how big I was and that I was still in university – hearing that from a pro bowler was unbelievable.”
Chambers remembers Martin telling him how much the experience would not only boost his confidence, but also give him a glimpse of what could be possible if Chambers seriously focused his energy towards training to be the best player he can be.
It seems as though the trip to Florida did hit home as Chambers has been locked in and dangerous, more so than at any other point in his CIS career, at the start of the 2011 football season.
He recorded 36 catches for 563 yards and five touchdowns in seven regular season games last year – career best numbers.
And with some help from lucky number 17, he will continue his football journey. Chambers will be striving to cement his status as the number one draft-eligible receiver at the CFL’s Evaluation Camp in early March.