From time to time, NJ Advance Media will publish stories on what it means to be a Black athlete at Rutgers. This is the first of those stories.
The shots were fired just as Myles Nash returned to his Rutgers dorm.
Pop, pop, pop. Nash barely had time to react to what he would later call an ambushing.
And even though the damage was done with an airsoft gun, Nash wasnt about to let the BBs go by without returning fire at his Rutgers football teammates.
He scrambled to his room to grab the BB pistol he bought for $7.99 at a sporting goods store and returned outside. The impromptu game of manhunt was over, but Nash maintained a firm grip on his weapon as he walked back into the Silvers Apartment after 10 p.m. on a mid-November night seven years ago.
It was me being young and dumb, not knowing what I was doing, Nash said.
A member of the student security team spotted Nash carrying the gun as he re-entered the building and called the police. Sensing he was in trouble after a brief interaction, Nash stashed the gun in a teammates dorm room.
He heard the cops running up his apartment steps at full speed. Within seconds, they had drawn their guns at the 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end. Six revolvers pointed at his head. Nash put his hands in the air.
GET ON THE GROUND!
Nash was arrested and, on Nov. 12, 2013, charged with knowingly possessing an imitation firearm under the circumstances that would lead a person to reasonably believe that it was possessed for an unlawful purpose, police records show.
He agreed to two years of probation to make the charges go away quietly. But now, all these years later, Nash looks at what has happened to young Black people in similar situations.
And part of him realizes hes probably lucky to be alive.
Its the exact same thing as Tamir Rice, Nash said, pointing to the 2015 police shooting of a Cleveland boy who had allegedly brandished a replica gun. "Fortunately, the police that I encountered that day, they approached the situation with extreme caution and didnt make a rash decision. They couldve pulled the card where they feared for their lives and probably wouldve beat it.
"But thats one of the positives out of the story because even though Ive seen all this stuff happening all around I cant sit here and say all cops are bad. Its a good thing that that happened to me, because if it didnt and the things Im seeing now (with George Floyd), my opinion would be different.''
Following his five-year career for Rutgers, Myles Nash, pictured at the XFL Summer Showcase at Montclair State University on June 14, 2019, played in eight games for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football League.James Kratch | NJ Advance Media
6-foot-5, Black, with tattoos and I survived
Nearly seven years removed from the incident, Nash sits in a South Jersey restaurant near his apartment on the Camden waterfront. Since wrapping up a 33-game collegiate career in which he played linebacker, defensive end and tight end for the Scarlet Knights, Nash had workouts with the Giants and Indianapolis Colts, played in eight games with the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football and spent a year as a graduate assistant at Rutgers before joining the staff at Timber Creek High.
He orders a BLT and a lemonade, then says he wants the incident known because he expects to be asked about it as he goes through the application process for the New Jersey State Police.
Its one of those things I look at now, especially since getting back into coaching, where Im glad it happened because I can talk to the younger guys about it, Nash said. "It was immaturity.''
A once-promising recruit who picked Rutgers over scholarship offers from seven Power 5 Conference schools, Nashs collegiate career nearly derailed before it really started.
Nash makes no excuses for what police described in its report as brandishing a black firearm from the rear waistband of his pants and entering the Rutgers apartment with the weapon in plain view. He says his biggest mistake was removing an orange safety tip that was designed to distinguish the BB gun from a pistol that fired real bullets.
There was a real bad thing going on around the team where we would take the orange cap off to make it look real, to make it look cool, and I did that, Nash said. Again, just me being immature.
He considers himself lucky. All summer, he watched as a series of police arrests of Black men turned catastrophic. From the George Floyd killing in Minnesota to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Nash said his incident couldve been devastating had he not stashed the gun in a teammates apartment.
"I knew how it would look to the police if I had this gun on me,'' he said. So I was like, Yo, Im leaving this in here because a whole bunch of cops are downstairs. I dont want them to shoot me because they think I have a real gun.'
A year after his arrest, Nash also remembers hearing the news about Rice, the Black 12-year old who was killed in Cleveland by a white police officer. Like Nash, Rice was playing around in public with an airsoft-style gun and, like Nash, Rice had removed the orange cap to make it look real.
Tamir Rice had a BB gun and was killed over it, Nash said. Im a grown man, 18 years old, 6-foot-5 and Black, with a bunch of tattoos and I survived.
Myles Nash was a member of the Rutgers football team from 2013-17, playing linebacker, defensive end, tight end and a variety of spots on special teams.NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
We needed to give our kids a better chance
Nash considers himself lucky in another way. Born in Philadelphia, Nash was moved from a rough neighborhood to Sicklerville, N.J., at the age of 6.
He dangles a french fry, and pulls down the neck of his shirt to reveal the one tattoo nobody sees. Its a skyline of Philadelphia with the phrase, Philly made, Jersey raised
My parents raised us in a nice house in South Jersey, but I never forget where I came from, he says, looking across the Delaware River at Philadelphia. North Philly is rough. This is what my life couldve been like if my parents didnt bless me with this opportunity. I never can mention Jersey without mentioning my roots.
His father, Robert, grew up in the projects of North Philly. His mother, Chevonne, grew up in West Philly, where gangs had infiltrated her neighborhood.
We always said if we had kids, we would not want them to go through things we went through growing up, Robert Nash said.
So Robert and Chevonne moved Myles and his four brothers from Philadelphia to Sicklerville, N.J., in 2000. In a wide-ranging interview, Chevonne called it a turning point in Myles' life.
Robert and I worked in the city and we were familiar with a lot of the systemic racism, and when you think of systemic racism, you think of the lack of educational opportunities as well as community resources, she said. "So we thought we needed to give our kids a better chance. Where we were in Philly, it was rough and it wasnt getting any better. Trouble found our kids, and they found trouble. We moved to an area in South Jersey, where the opportunities would be better, as well as the education and the environment.''
In Philly, Nash had seen people close to him die from tragic consequences. He watched his mom find a loved one who was strung out on crack on a street corner. He knows what his life couldve been like if he had to stay in that environment.
He points to Darby Ford, his 19-year old cousin from Philadelphia who was shot and killed at a Newark, Del., apartment complex. Nash was informed of the tragedy six days after his November 2013 arrest.
He unfortunately had a life in the streets, Nash said. "He always tried to keep that aspect of his life away from me. Never let me smoke or try any drugs and always emphasized me using football as my way to live a good life.''
A tattoo on his left bicep memorializes his cousin, one of 11 tattoo that tell Nashs life story.
Theres one for his mother, who works in healthcare at Temple University, another for his father, a mechanic for Philadelphias transit system, and one for his grandfather, who owned an ice cream truck in west Philadelphia.
Theres a Bible verse from Psalm 23:4 (Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil"), a Colin Kaepernick quote (Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything'') and tattoos honoring civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner.
About a month before Chadwick Boseman died, Nash put the Black Panther on his right arm. And it might be his most symbolic piece of body art yet.
That film was inspiring because the antagonist wanted to fight back against white Americans, but Chadwick Boseman was like, No, I dont want to use my powers to fight against white Americans I want to use the resources to go into Black communities and basically level the playing field, which is what I think is the right answer, Nash said.
The kids I grew up with in North Philly didnt have the same resources we had Sicklerville. If I got rich tomorrow, Im not giving back to Sicklerville. Theyre doing fine over there. I would go to the inner city of Philly, one of those schools, and give them a turf football field.
Myles Nash, pictured here picking up yardage after a reception as Rutgers defeated in November 2017, played both tight end and defensive end as a fifth-year senior.John Munson | NJ Advance Media f
RU captains defuse the situation
Nash remembers the first Rutgers football practice after his arrest. The Scarlet Knights were preparing for a Nov. 16, 2013, game against Cincinnati.
"Coach Flood addressed it with the team and was like, We have a player on our team who couldve died yesterday because of this stupidity,'' Nash said. When he said that, I realized thats right. I couldve died.
Gary Nova, the former Rutgers quarterback, was a captain on the Scarlet Knights' 2013 squad. He remembers the captains held a players-only meeting to address the situation.
Two of our captains, Jamal Merrell and Jamil Merrell, they were very vocal about it, telling the guys, You dont need a gun on campus, youre very catered to, youre not in harms way, and you should never bring it into the dorms, Nova said. "It was something that was addressed, and then it was over once the guys turned them in.
"But looking back on it, that was a bad situation that couldve been a lot worse. Obviously, the guys on the team were nice guys, but theyre big, intimidating guys, too. And God forbid, the cops wouldve felt threatened and something happened. Thankfully, it didnt get to that point.''
Nearly seven years after the incident, Nashs parents grew emotional as they recalled their son telling them about the arrest.
I was really disappointed in what he did because I felt he shouldve known better, but he had to take responsibility for what he did, Chevonne said. As far as him accepting the probation (offer), I knew he was a good kid who never caused us a day of trouble before.
Chevonne called her son not long after the news surrounding the Tamir Rice shooting surfaced.
The first thing I did was contact Myles, saying, This is what you did and this is what happened to that little boy, she said. "I think we drilled it on him so much that it really had an effect on Myles. As a parent, I just prayed to God and thanked him that he wasnt killed. The similarities were just 100 percent spot on.''
Myles Nash's tattoos tell the story of the inspiration people in his life as well as his upbringing from Philadelphia to South Jersey. Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The next step: the State Police
Not long after a stint in the fledgling Alliance of American Football League, Nash received a call from former Rutgers coach Chris Ash to return to the program as an assistant defensive line coach. He had hardly considering coaching at that point, but was intrigued by the prospects of mentoring younger players.
It was a decision that inspired Nash to return to Timber Creek, where hes currently assisting the South Jersey teams defensive line.
Hes hoping to learn later this fall whether he can take the next step with the New Jersey State Police.
"Myles will be a great police officer because hes a people person with a big heart,'' Chevonne said. "He would be the cop who stops to play basketball with the kids, or stop when he sees kids doing stuff theyre not supposed to do and tell them the right way to do it and give them the long, drawn-out version of what happened to him.''
He shared the story of his arrest to several players on the Rutgers football team last year, and these days routinely addresses it with athletes at his high school alma mater.
"Me being at Rutgers was perfect because I was able to explain what I went through, and then show proof of people that I played with who got in trouble with the law,'' Nash said. "Some are still in jail. It was me telling them, This is real. if you go down this path, heres where youll end up. I told them my story about how I was dumb, trying to be cool, and I had a fake gun on campus and (it) couldve cost me my life.''
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