Above the Atlantic Avenue entrance on the campus of Poly High School it reads, “Enter To Learn, Go Forth To Serve.” Many Jackrabbits stay true to those words and serve communities all over the world. Some come back to do the exact same, and NFL football star tight end Marcedes Lewis is one of those Jackrabbits.
As part of the Marcedes Lewis Foundation, the Poly Football Stadium played host for the third annual Marcedes Lewis Football Camp on Saturday and about 600 young aspiring football players participated in drills along side the 2011 NFL Pro Bowler.
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“This is big time for me,” said Lewis. “To be able to come back and be on a platform to be able to help the kids out here… it’s kind of nostalgic. We’ve been here. This is where I learned, and where these kids can learn too.”
As one of the main offensive threats for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lewis is coming off of his best season in the NFL with 58 receptions and 700 yards receiving to go along with 10 touchdowns and a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Jacksonville is so invested in Lewis that they put the franchise tag one him, a distinction that only the best in the league receive.
Obviously, that success in his sixth season in the NFL is getting Lewis and his camp a lot of attention. In the first year at Long Beach State, the camp drew about 350 kids. Last year at Poly it went up with online registrations, and this year they had more than 600 young athletes register before the event.
“We’re very excited about the turnout,” said Lewis’ mother, organizer of the foundation and camp, Yvonne Withers. “Everyone tells me about how organized we are and how much fun the camp is… but that’s the volunteers. We’ve got about 150 volunteers out here today, and along with coaches, more than half of them are family and friends.”
The “Poly Family” is no stranger to big events like this, and again they were out in full force— from current Poly students and CIF champions like basketball star Roschon Prince and track star Shaquille Howard, to local football minds and coaches like Poly football head coach Raul Lara. Even on the same day the varsity football team was in Saugus winning a passing league tournament— their second this summer— a handful of Poly football coaches were out on the campus field in the morning running the kids through drills.
“With this event here on campus, you feel obligated to show up… this is what family is all about,” said Poly defensive coach AJ Luke, who had former Poly star Hershel Dennis come out to Cabrillo for a camp last season when he was head coach there. “(Marcedes) is a great representative for the city of Long Beach and this is where it all starts.”
Luke made sure that at the end of each drill with each small group of kids, he brought them in for a break and talked about what it means to work hard for a goal, on and off the football field.
“This is where you pass the word along like it was passed along to us, and (Marcedes) gets that… with guys like Willie (McGinest) out of the (NFL) now it’s up to the next generation, guys like Marcedes and Winston (Justice), to become like the father figure for Poly football at the next level… but that’s up to him, and like I said, he knows it starts here.”
Along with the Poly coaches, trainers from the athlete academy Champions Quest were out with cones and stop watches to teach the kids about combine drills like the 40-yard dash and shuttle run. After the physical activities were done, the entire camp was fed by Naples Rib Company and Lewis addressed the kids and families to thank them for participating, and express how much the event meant to him.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Lewis, standing along side his mother. “The more important time is these kid’s time… this community is ours… we’ll see you next year!”