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High school rivals team up on Giants' offense

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Evan Engram and Amba Etta-Tawo reside side-by-side on the Giants' current alphabetical roster. Ironically, they are also from the same hometown, Powder Springs, Ga.

It would be easy to assume that a) football is king in Powder Springs, as it is throughout the South; b) the community of approximately 14,000 citizens would have one high school; and c) Engram and Etta-Tawo, born just 10 months apart, would have been teammates at that school.

The first part of that statement is true. The next two, not so much. Etta-Tawo played at McEachern High School, which opened in 1908. Engram was in one of the first classes at Hillgrove High, which welcomed its first students in 2006. The schools sit just three minutes apart, and a fierce football rivalry has developed between them. In 2011, Etta-Tawo was a senior and Engram a junior when they squared off in the season's biggest game in Cobb County. Hillgrove won, 12-10, before a capacity crowd in McEachern's Walter H. Cantrell stadium, a 12,500-seat venue that is the county's largest.

"It's sad to say, but they won the game," Etta-Tawo said. "It's a big high school rivalry. It went down to the fourth quarter, they just came out on top. There were battles throughout our whole high school career, so it was good for the whole city. There is a left side of the city in Powder Springs and there is a right side, and you come together in the middle to play the game. It was a good thing to see and to see a lot of the guys on the professional stage means more now."

"It was his senior year, my junior year, and it was number one vs. number two in the state," Engram said. "We had (Miami Dolphins running back) Kenyan Drake on our team, and I was kind of starting to get going. We had some tough battles against each other, for sure."

Although they are teammates who sit in the same offensive meeting room, Engram and Etta-Tawo were in far different places when the Giants held their fifth training camp practice today. Engram is secure on the roster and in the lineup. He was the Giants' first-round draft choice in 2017, when he led the team with 64 receptions and six touchdowns. Etta-Tawo entered the NFL last year as an undrafted rookie, and was released from the practice squads in Jacksonville and Kansas City before joining the Giants' squad on Dec. 19. He made some noticeable plays in the spring and early in camp.

"Amba's had a good offseason and the first part of camp he's done a nice job," coach Pat Shurmur said.

If Etta-Tawo needs a recommendation, he can turn to his old high school rival.

"Amba was a beast," Engram said. "A lot of talent comes out of McEachern, and then we have some talent coming out of our school too. So we all kind of know of each other and kind of root for each other after we get out of high school."

Engram attended the University of Mississippi, where he caught 162 passes and scored 15 touchdowns. Etta-Tawo played three seasons at Maryland before transferring in 2016 to Syracuse, where he set 10 school single-season records, including receptions (94), receiving yards (1,482) and touchdown catches (14).

"It was crazy," Engram said. "He was putting up 200 yard games like it was nothing. Everybody was definitely rooting him on, and I was definitely paying close attention."

Before becoming teammates, they had little contact with each other, though they did talk briefly at the scouting combine last year.

"We've run into each other a few times," Etta-Tawo said. "I remember speaking with him at the Senior Bowl. We're from the same area, so we have that chemistry."

Both McEachern and Hillgrove were 5-0 when they met on Oct. 7, 2011. In case anyone was unclear about the game's significance, Hillgrove's official schedule listed it as "Rivalry Game."

"That's the biggest game on our schedule, for sure," Engram said.

"It was always a big game, but that game for some reason was special because it was the class that we had and the class that they had at that time was really good," Etta-Tawo said. "And just the fact that it was at McEachern. We had some modifications to our stadium. It was just a big culmination of all of that.

"I was (aware of Engram). He was a receiver on their team and I was a receiver on our team, so we were kind of going head-to-head, you could say."

After a scoreless first quarter, Hillgrove took a 7-3 halftime lead. McEachern went ahead 10-7 by recovering a fumble in the end zone. The Hawks then tied the game at 10-10 with nine minutes left. On the next drive, a high snap sailed over the head of the McEachern punter, who kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety. The Indians had a chance to win the game, but were unable to get into the end zone or attempt a field goal.

McEachern finished 11-1, while Hillgrove ended the season with a 10-2 record. The difference was the bad snap.

"It was definitely an exciting game," Etta-Tawo said. "We were driving the field and there was a lot of going for it on fourth down, and a lot of fourth down stops deep into their territory. Same thing for them. It just went back and forth. A lot of offense was produced, it was just the defenses on both sides played good in the red zone."

Etta-Tawo said he caught "maybe eight" passes in the big game. Engram said he had "a few" receptions. But his team won. Not that he's reminded Etta-Tawo of that since they became Giants teammates.

I wouldn't get that started up in here," Engram aid. "We'll start fighting up in here. All his McEachern boys would show up trying to fight me."

He was laughing when he said it. Etta-Tawo didn't find it quite as funny.

View the best photos from Monday's practice