In 15 games last season playing in a position more suited to battling blockers than bludgeoning ball carriers, Lewis recorded 43 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks, the last one in that NFC title game loss that left the nine-year NFL veteran oh-so-close to a Super Bowl appearance.
But off the field, the Sulphur Springs native is anything but mean, and he’s proving it again this month, returning to his hometown for the second straight year to help youngsters in his hometown become better athletes — and better people.
On April 25, Lewis will bring some of his fellow professional football players to town for the second Damione Lewis Football Camp, offered free to all boys 6 to 14 years old in Hopkins County.
The camp offers basic instruction on the fundamentals of the game of football, as well as proper nutrition and weight training.
But campers also learn about leadership, character, and how to be true student-athletes on and off the field.
"We're going to teach the fundamentals of the game," Lewis said. "But the biggest thing is to sit back at the end and try to talk to them and try to reach them.”
Eight professional football players joined Lewis at the 2008 camp, offering one-on-one lessons on both the game and the game of life to some 300 youngsters. Ayanna Pryor, Boys and Girls Club director, said the number of NFL players who will attend this year has not been set, but she knows Lewis is hoping to bring even more stars.
The camp is held in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club, where it’s not uncommon for 60 percent of the children who take part in club programs from single-parent homes.
“It's kind of sad that the norm for kids is not to grow up with both parents in the home.” Lewis said last year prior to the inaugural camp. “My dad worked long hours, and worked out of town. Now that I'm older, I understand and appreciate the sacrifice he made for his family. I think the Boys and Girls Club will be a great focal point in bringing those values and morals to young kids' lives.”
Those who take part in the camp don't have to be members of the Boys and Girls Club. Registration forms for the free camp, which should be turned in by Monday, April 13, are available at the Sulphur Springs Boys and Girls Club, Fieldhouse Sports and all county schools, For more information about signing up, call the Boys and Girls Club at 903-438-8404. Local business owners and others interested in donating items for the camp can call the same number for additional information.
The camp will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Sulphur Springs High School practice facilities. Like the first camp, each boy who attends will receive a free T-shirt, but this year, they’ll also take home a $30 Nike bag filled with all manner of goodies. (Nike sold the bags to Lewis, who is footing the bill for the freebies, for $10.)
Local banks are donating hot dogs for the youngsters, and other local businesses are donating drinks.
Another change this year is a “Friday Night Lights Kickoff Dinner” that will be held at the Boys and Girls Club beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, April 24.
Pryor, Boys and Girls Club director, said the dinner will have a “down-home barbecue theme,” with brisket and link sausage featured on the menu to “show the folks that Damione is bringing that ‘country’ is great.”
There will also be a live auction for memorabilia and other items, including tickets and VIP field passes to a Carolina Panthers game against the Dallas Cowboys expected to be played in the Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington (NFL schedules will be announced Tuesday).
Tickets to the dinner are $15 for adults and $10 for kids and can be picked up at the Boys and Girls Club, located at the old Houston Elementary School campus on College Street, until 7 p.m. each Monday through Thursday until April 20.
Pryor urges people to get their tickets early.
“We want to show our appreciation for Damione and the other folks coming with him,” she said.
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