He dozed off in a living room chair with his fists clenched. Akeem Jones knew his friend’s spirit was before him. He just didn’t want to believe it.
He opened his sleep-deprived eyes. The 5-foot-11 spirit stood in a red Nike shirt and black Carol City football shorts. Jones smiled.
There is football in heaven.
Two unidentified masked gunmen shot Paul “P.J.” Royal 16 times last Tuesday afternoon.
Royal paid a visit to his friend the next night.
“His spirit came to me in my dream,” Jones said. “I talked to him and he told me to tell his girlfriend to continue to live her life and take care of his grandmother.”
Dreams are rare for Jones. He hasn’t slept since Tuesday.
Jones, the Carol City High School quarterback, deeply missed his former high school teammate and middle linebacker who wore the No. 10.
Royal died in front of a friend’s house just three days before he would attend Edward Waters College in Jacksonville on a football scholarship.
“It was a tragic event that occurred,” Carol City coach Harold Barnwell said. “We’re just being as strong as we possibly can. The kids wanted to move forward and continue to work out in honor of P.J. He is still part of the family.”
Jones couldn’t grieve for his lost family member. He had to play football.
The senior quarterback and four teammates visited UCF and USF before heading to UF for Friday Night Lights.
Jones addressed the squad at their Gainesville hotel on Friday.
“I told them from this day forward, you don’t have to say this is all just working for you,” Jones said.
“You don’t have time to take a play off. You don’t have time to say I got tomorrow. Man, we got to go to every down like it’s our last. This is our only shot.”
The Carol City five competed against other high school prospects with heavy hearts and quick feet. Jones earned the top quarterback award, fastest player honor and a UF scholarship offer as an athlete.
All of them wore white headbands saying “RIP PJ #10.”
Defensive tackle Aaron Thomas, who was wearing No. 101 at the camp, and safety Simeon Thomas, wearing No. 10, were on opposite sides of the Swamp. They couldn’t stop watching each other.
“Every time I saw Simeon Thomas, and I see that No. 10, it just made me go harder all night,” Aaron Thomas said.
Royal would’ve wanted his teammates on the field. He loved his team, sophomore defensive back Gerald Robinson, Jr. said.
“He smiled a lot. He was a good player on the field and a good teammate,” Robinson said. “If you didn’t know what you were doing, he would help you a lot. If you didn’t have your playbook in the meeting room, he would give it to you.”
Aaron Thomas looked up to the vocal leader.
“The way I think how P.J. is, he would want us to go out there and ball. He was always the top speaker on the team,” Thomas said.
“He gets in the huddle like a ‘Ray Lewis-type’ player at linebacker. He’s probably like don’t stop. Don’t let this be a burden on your shoulder.”
Football helped the teammates cope. It protected them. They needed the field, especially Jones.
“That’s where I get my glory at,” he said. “That’s where my joy comes from on that practice field. I feel safe around my team. Outside of that you never know what is going to happen.”
Death happened on the outside. Jones and Robinson now stay inside their Miami Gardens homes.
“There’s so much killing going on,” Jones said. “I’m afraid to even go out of the house.”
Nightly gunshots and police sirens prevent any sleep for Jones. Flashing police lights also might have saved his life.
After Jones and his teammates attended a movie July 13 at Crown Theaters in Opa Locka, a Miami Gardens police officer pulled their car over on the way home.
“You guys need to get home,” the policeman said. “There were four homicides tonight in the last hour.”
Sunday marked the wake for Royal. His family, friends and team buried him Monday. The Carol City family is looking to God for answers, Barnwell said.
For Jones, all he has are questions.
“Honestly, it hurts bad — it hurts really bad,” he said.
“I cry every chance I get to see him and I say, ‘P.J., please tell me I can call you and you’ll answer the phone and say let’s play a game.’ I don’t know how I am going to do this. Is this a dream, or is this real?”