Lewis prepares for free football camp

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 18, 2008 - Damione Lewis doesn't know how much the 270 boys who have signed up for his free football camp on Saturday will absorb from him and the 10 other NFL and college football stars.

But, he also knows that blocking and tackling skills aren't the most important thing that the campers will take with them.

"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.

"The good thing about it is that a lot of guys like to give back to the kids."

Lewis, who just completed his seventh season in the NFL, recently signed a three-year extension with the Carolina Panthers. Lewis was a blue chip prospect when he graduated from SSHS in 1996 and was the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft after a four-year career at the University of Miami.

Along with Lewis, other NFL players who will work the camp include Sulphur Springs native Caleb Miller of the Bengals, Aveion Cason (Lions), Jerametrius Butler (Bills), Dante Rosario (Panthers), Jon Beason (Panthers) and Jessie Armstead (retired, Giants). Arizona running back Edgerrin James may be in town, but had a scheduling conflict he was trying to resolve. Three of Lewis' former Miami teammates will also be helping: Quincy Hipps, Chad Peguese and Rod Mack.

The camp, which is free to those who signed up, will start at 9 a.m. and conclude about noon. The camp is a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Hopkins County. Money has been raised by local businesses and individuals who will have a mixer and bowl with the players this evening.

Below are some exerts from a sit-down with Lewis last month when he was in town to solidify details of the camp:

On the Football Camp

"It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and I've just been waiting for the right time. I've gotten to a place in my life where I'm settled and in a comfort situation where I feel like I can give back.

"The first thing I wanted to do in that process is to get something going around here. Coming home and driving around, I really don't like seeing what's happening to our youth around here and where it's headed.

"I'm trying to help kids get focused on life and back on track. There's so much more in their lives to look forward to that what they're dealing with today.

"I want it to go beyond football, but that's what I know - that's what I do, so it was a lot easier for me to bring that atmosphere in first and build on that."

On the Boys and Girls Club

"In the future, I'd like to see retired teachers in here tutoring, volleyball and basketball, just a full service Boys and Girls Club, where they can come over here and get on-line, do their home work and be more of an area that's a positive place for them to be. I'd like to see businessmen come in and talk to them and mentor them - that's what I'd like to see."

On His Advice

"The first thing I try to do is bring it back to life for the kids. There was a time where I was sitting in a chair listening to someone else talk, when I was looking for inspiration and trying to find guidance in what I was wanting to do. Everyone goes through that. They need to understand that the person they are looking to was in the same position that are in, maybe worse. So, it's possible for them to do what I did or go beyond and do something different.

"I'm not just talking about the NFL or NBA, it could be a doctor or lawyer or just a hard-working parent who provides for their family. Find a comfort within yourself and try to better yourself - that's really the object of life. Go out and better your life and bring somebody along with you.

"A good friend of mine that just passed away, Sean Taylor, had a saying, 'Don't count the reps, make the reps count.' When you think about it in retrospect, that's how I felt playing high school football and college football. Everyday is a grind and if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That's the same for sports and in everyday life - if you're not paying the bills today, then they're building up tomorrow.

"Everything in life is about improving yourself and bettering yourself and bringing somebody along with you.

"Playing a sport is a blessing in itself, but you realize that's not the most important thing in life. It's more important to grow from a kid to a man or a kid to a woman than it is to hang your hat on playing a professional sport. You have to be able to make a living for yourself if you don't make it.

"You have to always have a back-up plan. That's just seeing it every day and watching guys go through it."

On Growing Up in SS

"My dad worked long hours, worked out of town. Now that I'm older, I understand and appreciate the sacrifice he made for his family. It's kind of sad that the norm for kids is not to grow up with both parents in the home.

"I always loved football. My brother went to school. The older I got, the more I started to understand the game and it became more of a reality.

"I never thought I couldn't make it in the NFL. Ever since I started thinking about it, it was one of those things I thought I could do and I just wouldn't be denied."

On Life in the NFL

"It's competition week-in and week-out. When you get to the NFL, you're going against somebody good every week.

"Your spend a lot of time with those guys. You do everything together but go home together. It's a full-time job.

"I'm 30. It's been a rough ride, but I love it. It seems every year about Aug. 1 or 2, I have to ask myself why am I doing this. But, once you make it to September, it's all worth it. It's demanding. It's hard to stay healthy - but that's the key to the game, performing and staying healthy.

"Last year, I had surgery on my shoulder in February, and when we went to training camp I was just starting to bench press again. ... You got to go. That's all there is to it. You've got to go. That was a rough season, but by midseason I started to hit my stride.

"When you go to training camp, you have 85-90 guys fighting to make the team. As a vet, you sit back and realize that come September there's going to be a lot of guys hurting because they're not going to be in that locker room. It shrivels down and it shrivels down in a hurry.

"I've seen this game break a lot of men, but I've also seen a lot of men walk away from this game and be successful. Life teaches you that."

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