No use keeping this a secret. Eventually, the skeletons in Simoni Lawrence's closet would come out.

He tried to skirt the issue initially. With the first "no comment" of his NFL career, the former Upper Darby High star gave away that he wasn't an Eagles fan growing up. With a politician's charm, Lawrence danced around the topic for a few minutes, constantly reaffirming how ecstatic he is to be back home.

Then, the admission. Lawrence glanced left and right - checking to see who was within earshot - and the truth came out.

"OK, I'll tell you guys," he said. "I was a Cowboys fan. A former Cowboys fan. Former."

So now Lawrence will try to make it in the NFL with the team he grew up despising. Yesterday, the Eagles signed Lawrence. His future is foggy. Loaded at linebacker, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to retain a generously listed 6-foot, 230-pound reserve deep into training camp.

But all Lawrence wants is a chance. He will bask in this homecoming as long as possible.

"This is a dream come true," said Lawrence, sporting a white No. 45 uniform with no name on the back as the Eagles continued their organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex. "To stay home in Philadelphia, I'm so happy to be out here. I just love the area. So glad to be here, I can't even explain it."

After going undrafted in April and then a brief hello-goodbye stint with the St. Louis Rams, Lawrence was drafted by the United Football League's Hartford Colonials in the fifth round last week. Still, he harbored NFL hopes. After a productive meeting with the Eagles at the NFL Combine in February, Lawrence had a feeling they'd come calling at some point.

Last week, he tried out for the Eagles. And rather than join the UFL, Lawrence will swing for the fences.

In 2 years at Minnesota, after transferring from Valley Forge Military Academy, Lawrence had 151 tackles. In his first year, Lawrence was used in a hybrid linebacker/safety role with the Gophers. After adding some weight, he settled in at starting linebacker as a senior.

Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott didn't roll out the red carpet in discussing Lawrence's future with the team. But after Day 1, he's encouraged.

"He came out here today and handled himself well," McDermott said. "You're really looking for a guy that can fit in and that's what I saw."

The attack-style defense Lawrence experienced briefly with Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis is similar to the Eagles' scheme. This week's crash-course tutorial shouldn't overwhelm him.

Though he's at least 10 pounds lighter than his peers, Lawrence points to his coverage skills as a quality that could separate him from the pack. In this defense, linebackers are on an island with wide receivers at times. This happened to Lawrence often in the slot yesterday.

"I'm a very good coverage player and coming off the edge, I'm very hard to block," he said.

Holding his helmet with both hands like an antique, Lawrence couldn't escape the irony. He joked that a local radio station is going to call him a cockroach. Even though his parents were both Eagles fans, he grew up loving the Cowboys.

Of course, being an expatriate led to some rough days in his childhood.

One classic Eagles-Dallas game stands out. In 1995, with 2 minutes left and the game tied at 17, the Eagles stoned Emmitt Smith twice on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 29-yard line. The Eagles took over, Gary Anderson booted a 42-yard field goal to win, and Lawrence crumbled.

"My mom and dad were in my face like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!' " he said.

Lawrence ran to his bedroom and wept. Going against the grain led to some dark memories.

"The Eagles messed up a lot of my days," he said.

Not anymore, he hopes. After whiffing in St. Louis, he's back on his feet. Friends have been flooding his inbox. His mother, Amanda Lawrence, is overjoyed to have her son back home. The UFL can wait. Lawrence realizes this summer may be his only chance at the NFL.

No way he'd pass it up.

"Especially if you're from around the area," he said. "People might never talk to you again back home if you do."