LONG BEACH, CA-It’s always good to go home. Home for Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis is the sprawling campus of Long Beach Poly High School, a place where he leveraged his 6-foot-6 frame into becoming an All-CIF forward in basketball and All-American status in football.
Like fellow Jackrabbits that have enjoyed success playing professional football, past and present, including DeSean Jackson and Willie McGinest, Lewis has endeared himself to the Long Beach community with what he does off the field as much as he has made a living on it.
One of the ways that Lewis does this is holding a no-cost football camp every year at Long Beach Poly High School for several hundred young people through his foundation. It’s a win-win for everyone. Lewis is the local sports star who comes back home and shows he is still engaged with a community which has been embedded in his life.
For the youths attending and participating in the 2018 Marcedes Lewis Foundation Football Camp, they received a close and personal view of a solidified NFL player that they can identify with. Lewis is cut from the same cloth as a lot of the kids that now attend his camp, and he recognizes this fact.
“This day is special because it’s me giving back,” Lewis said. “it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and (it’s something) I’ll continue to do long after I’m done playing ball. At the end of the day, it’s about the next generation. It’s always a good feeling watching these kids run around and really come out here and learn what it means to have good sportsmanship, learn the fundamentals of playing ball. I have my peers come out here and help me, past players that I’ve always looked up to and watched. They come and help, so they’re (youths) definitely getting good coaching.”
As much as a stabilizing force the Long Beach community has been for Lewis, playing the bulk of his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has almost been on equal footing. For a dozen years, Lewis was able to call Jacksonville his home away from home as he worked his way into the franchise’s third all-time leading pass-catcher slot in receiving yards (4,502) and receptions (375) He also snagged 33 touchdown passes, second-best in the club’s history.
The former first round draft pick came within two quarters of having the opportunity of playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in his career when Jacksonville squared off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the NFL’s AFC Conference Championship earlier this year. Lewis and his Jacksonville teammates wound up falling short of reaching the NFL’s ultimate prize.
Despite that crushing setback, Lewis may get an opportunity to eventually play in the Super Bowl, thanks to the UCLA alum signing a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers and having a chance to have future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers throw passes to him.
That’s a luxury Lewis never had in his dozen seasons with the Jaguars. But aside from the topsy-turvy world of NFL news and transactions, Long Beach Poly High School remains the one constant that Lewis has been able to embrace with his heart and charitable conviction. For the past nine years, Lewis has poured out the love to a community that loves him back.
McGinest, who serves as an NFL Network analyst, walks the same benevolent line that Lewis pushes through as a community ambassador. Before he went on to star at USC, before he became a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, and long before he made it through 15 NFL seasons, McGinest toiled in the trenches for Long Beach Poly High School as an all-world defensive lineman and took to the court as a mercurial basketball player.
The commonality of being part of the Jackrabbit heralded lineage of making it big in the NFL has allowed the two men to share their pathways to young people through their philanthropic efforts, McGinest said.
“This is what we’ve been doing for years,” said McGinest. “It’s great when guys who are from here, guys who have been successful and made it, leave and come back and give back to their community and to their people, especially to the kids. It’s important for the kids to see that you can strive for greater things, you can make something out of your life, not just sports, but whatever it is.”
The key to achieving those goals is striving to do things the right way, McGinest said.
“All you got to do is stay consistent and stay on the straight and narrow,” said McGinest. “When you grow up in the inner city like we all do, there’s a lot of distractions. That’s always our message; they’re everywhere. You just got to make smart decisions. You got to be responsible. You got to be accountable. You got to be a good son and listen to your parents. You got to respect to authority, and if you just stay focused and keep believing in whatever you want to do-not just sports-it’s right there in front of you. You got an opportunity. You just have to make the right choices.”
Besides Lewis putting on his annual skill clinic, former Long Beach Poly High School football stars Jurrell Casey (Tennessee Titans), DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers) are all formulating their own football camps for youths in Southern California. Lewis said that’s simply the Poly way.
“It’s all part of the tradition,” Lewis said. “It’s just not playing football. It’s about giving back and making sure that we shed a light on what it means to be a family. That’s all we’ve been since I’ve been here, and we will always continue to do that. I’m pretty sure there’s not a kid that you won’t see with a big smile on their face. As long as we’re doing that. We’re doing our jobs.”