Sunday’s game between the Bills and Ravens has big AFC playoff implications. It’ll also hold a great deal of significance for two primary ball handlers in the game. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson and Buffalo running back Devin Singletary grew up just 10 minutes away from each other in South Florida. And once, just once, they squared off in the South Florida Youth Football League. They haven’t seen each other on the opposite sideline of a football field since.
It was September of 2006 and Devin Singletary had just turned nine-years old on the third of the month. Set to begin his second season in the 80-pound North Division in the SFYFL for the Deerfield Beach Packer-Rattlers. His cousin, Cornelius Riley, and his dad, Devonn Singletary, were his coaches.
In Week 3 of the season they were set to host one of their rivals, the Pompano Cowboys, at West Side Park, a field nestled between I-95, the Dixie Highway and East Hillsboro Boulevard.
The Cowboys had just added a new dynamic player from their 70-pound division roster for the 2006 season.
It didn’t take long to pick out the two best athletes on the field as the game got underway.
“Just two kids with some God-given talent,” said Riley of Jackson and Singletary, his cousin. “It’s hard to describe it, but it’s just what you’re seeing from them now. It was just a condensed version of it then because they were so small.”
Riley took particular enjoyment in watching their opponent each week size up the diminutive Singletary and not think much of him. That is until he was shaking them out of their shoes or running them over.
“With Devin what was clear was his book was always judged before they saw the storyline because he was so small,” Riley said. “So by the time Devin got going in the game it was over. That’s how it’s always been with Devin. He’s always been underestimated until he shows them who he is. Once the motor started there was no turning it off. It was like OMG.”
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Jackson had developed a reputation of his own, at least in the league in which he was playing. His stat lines from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel weekly youth football roundup read as follows. Five carries, 145 yards, 3 TDs. The next week, six carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs.
“He was the quarterback. He always played quarterback,” said Singletary of Jackson. “He’s doing the same thing now that he did then. Making people miss, running around and throwing touchdown passes.”
As for the game between their two teams back in 2006, Singletary remembers it vividly.
“It feels like it was yesterday,” he said of a game now 13 years in the rearview mirror. “I can remember almost every play of that game. Us going up and then Lamar bringing them back.”
Buffalo’s rookie running is right about how the game unfolded. Singletary’s mother remembers the back and forth nature of the game with the running back, whose nickname was already ‘Motor,’ and the quarterback from Pompano, who most at that time called, ‘LJ.’
“In Pop Warner the Pompano Cowboys and Deerfield Packer-Rattlers were rivals, and I do remember that game very well,” said Sabrina Clark. “Devin would score a touchdown and then Lamar would come back and score a touchdown. And then Devin would score another touchdown and back and forth it went.”
Both Singletary and Jackson played both ways. Singletary was a running back and a linebacker while Jackson played quarterback and safety. So the two did have opportunities to square off directly.
The Pompano quarterback would strike first for the Cowboys.
“We were both going at it,” said Singletary. “I’m pretty sure he got me once for a touchdown, but we were going back and forth. I remember I scored on a play and I made him miss. He was playing safety on defense and I got him on one play for sure.”
Jackson remembers the play a bit differently.
“He didn’t shake me. I was scared to hit him,” said Jackson chuckling. “He was huge. I was like, ‘I’m not for hitting him.’ So I dove to the side and let him run. After that he didn’t score anymore.”
The Ravens quarterback doesn’t remember the details quite the way Singletary does, but he does remember the type of player ‘Motor’ was.
“He was an impact player. He helped his team out,” said Jackson. “I don’t know how far they went that year, but I know we went further. He was a great running back. I think he wore number 5 or 2. He was a powerful back. He looked the exact same way then. He was a little muscle back who was dynamic and made moves and scored a lot of touchdowns.”
In 2006 however, it was Jackson who would make the last play. Tied at 14, Pompano’s quarterback won the game on a late touchdown run.
“They ended up winning,” Singletary said. “It ended up being 21-14. I scored twice. He scored twice.”
Jackson had just 51 yards rushing on four carries, but two of the carries went for scores. He also kicked a pair of extra points and completed three passes for 58 yards. Singletary’s official stats weren’t published.
Though they never played against each other on a football field for the rest of their youth as well as through high school, they kept in touch.
“We’d see each other out here and there,” Singletary said. “To this day if we run into each other we talk. He’s so funny. He’ll joke around. I remember every time he used to see me, he’d say, ‘What’s up fat boy?’ I didn’t have a nickname for him, but I’d just laugh it off.”
“He’s goofy. We’d hang out and crack jokes,” said Jackson. “We were kids and messed around all the time. He was laid back and cool.”
“I also remember Devin telling me every time he’d run into Lamar at the park, Lamar would always tell him, ‘Hey we’ve got to race. We’ve got to see who’s faster,’” said Clark. “So it always seemed like they had a friendly relationship even though both of them were very competitive.”
When they both began their college careers, the two made sure to encourage one another with quick text messages here and there.
“We’d just tell each other to keep it going,” Singletary said. “Being from the same area we’d keep up with each other.”
“All we’d say to each other was to ball out,” said Jackson. “We knew what each other was capable of, so that’s all we’d really tell each other to do was ball out.”
Jackson did that with much greater fanfare and media attention at Louisville, winning a Heisman Trophy in the process. Singletary meanwhile, set school records at Florida Atlantic.
Now 13 years later the two South Florida football products face one another on an NFL field, something neither of them imagined back at the age of nine.
“I can’t even tell you that it ever crossed my mind that this would happen,” said Jackson. “We had a lot of the same friends and some had the same kind of ability. And we thought a lot of them would make it. So to see us as the only two playing in the league right now, I would’ve never thought that.”
“It’s definitely all a part of God’s plan for sure,” Singletary said.
So coming off that nip-and-tuck game back in 2006, what would be the perfect outcome for the rematch? For those that know them from back home they’d like to be reminded of the youth football days.
“We want to come up with the ‘W’ definitely,” said Singletary’s mother. “But I would like to see them play the game that I watched them play in the past, where they’re going back and forth. Both of them doing great and having a great game. I’d like to see both of their athletic abilities on display and the competition between both of them that I remember seeing all those years ago.”
“The score ending up in a tie,” said Riley laughing. “I respect both of them. Both of them are outstanding young men and have accomplished a lot in the short time they’ve been in the league. At the end of the day unfortunately someone has to win and someone has to lose. I just wish both of them good health and to have a great game.”
Scroll through to see photos of each touchdown from Buffalo’s 26-15 win over the Cowboys in Week 13. Touchdown celebration photos are presented by Pepsi.
For the players themselves one could argue not a whole lot has changed. Both players are leading their teams in rushing, and both are among the league leaders in yards per carry average. Jackson leads the NFL at almost seven yards per carry (6.98) while Singletary ranks third at 5.64.
For the two young playmakers the statistics matter little. They’re just eager to compete.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Singletary. “I’m looking forward to it. Lamar is balling out right now.”
Regardless of the outcome, Jackson is already planning to find his childhood friend postgame and he won’t be calling him ‘Fat Boy.’
“I won’t call him that,” said Jackson. “I’ll call him ‘Motor.’ And I’ll want his jersey too.”