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Insider Blog: X.E.M.T.

Posted May 4, 2010

Xtra.Effort.Mental.Toughness - From Hurricane Katrina to the NFL, Kendrick Lewis has conquered the toughest of situations

Like the rest of the Chiefs rookie class, 2010 fifth-round draft pick Kendrick Lewis had his fair share of ups-and-downs during practices this past weekend at Arrowhead. The highs and lows are all part of the rookie acclimation process. However, what differentiates Lewis from many of his new teammates is that nothing that happens to Lewis on the football field can compete with the situation he conquered five years ago.

Kendrick Lewis is already battle tested.

In 2005, Lewis and his family lost it all. A native of Algiers, Louisiana (located in the heart of New Orleans), Hurricane Katrina violently crashed into Lewis’ neighborhood and destroyed literally everything in its path. He immediately became one of the thousands of displaced high school students from the area.


Imagine growing up in a very tough neighborhood and working hard to fight the temptations that surround you. You grind it out, manage to stay out of trouble and are in line for the reward of a college scholarship - a way out - only to have a storm seemingly blow that opportunity away along with nearly all of your household memories.

That’s adversity.

Ironically, Lewis was preparing for a football game when he was forced out of the area just prior to Katrina’s August 29, 2005, Louisiana landfall. Just a few weeks later Lewis was back in school and preparing to play ball once more…500 miles away from Algiers.

The stories of Katina evacuees are well documented and Lewis represents just one of those thousands. In fact, public schools in state of Texas alone housed more than 46,000 young evacuees. Each story was different, but for Lewis the situation at hand was the case of a top-tier college football prospect with no place to call home and no team to play for.

Instead of heading west to Texas, Lewis wound up to the east in Gainesville, Georgia. His mother found Gainesville after scurrying through phone books to find a city that would accept their family and provide an opportunity for her son to get back on the football field to continue his pursuit towards a scholarship.

“When I was in Katrina, I was faced with a bad situation,” Lewis said this past weekend at Chiefs rookie camp. “I had to move on. I couldn’t just stop there and give up everything that I worked so hard for. There’s adversity, so you have to overcome.”

Five years later and with a spot on a NFL roster, Lewis has obviously overcome the life-changer that blindsided both he and his family five years ago. Now, he’s applying those lessons of rising above hardship on the football field.

Just two months ago Lewis’ NFL stock took a major dive. He was one of over 300 college football prospects workout out in front of hundreds of professional scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN. Unfortunately, Lewis didn’t perform up to expectations.

"Kendrick Lewis was a guy who was thought pretty highly of up until his workout,” Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said in an interview with Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. “At the combine he ran a 4.77, and it killed him. He dropped like a stone.

“Everyone liked Kendrick Lewis until his 40 at the combine,” Pioli continued. “Then, all of a sudden, he disappeared and everybody wrote him off. I'm a firm believer in tape, not just numbers, and while I didn't completely ignore (the times) -- because when you saw the speed it affected him on our board -- you go back and do more work on the guy. And what I discovered was at the combine he had a flare-up of knee tendinitis.”

In his first meeting with the Kansas City media on Sunday, Lewis was asked about his poor combine showing. The question was a softball – an opportunity to push blame on an injury, talk about playing faster than his time shows or simply state that he felt the combine is an over-hyped and over-rated football evaluation tool. Instead, Lewis faced his poor performance head-on.

“It was one of my bad days,” Lewis remarked. “I ran bad.”

In fact, Lewis went on to even compliment the event that pushed him down NFL draft boards.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Lewis said. “You go out there and you meet guys, you meet new people, you get to meet new coaches and meet with different coaching staffs. It gives you a lot of things to work with as far as getting ready for the NFL.”

When you’ve had your world turned upside down, five seconds on a stopwatch isn’t going to throw you back off course. A mis-step here or a blown coverage there won’t be the back-breaker either. Learning to deal with hardship is half the battle in becoming better from the experience. Lewis should have that aspect of things down already.

This past weekend, expectations for both 2010 and beyond were laid out to this year’s crop of rookies by both Pioli and head coach Todd Haley. For a front office that values both extra effort and mental toughness, Lewis has to like where he’s landed.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Lewis said. “I’m happy to be here with the Chiefs and happy to be able to help this organization.”

It’s also easy to see why the Chiefs jumped at the opportunity to give Lewis an opportunity to help the organization when he was still on the board in day three of the draft.

The Early Show (CBS News) produced a feature on Lewis in 2005 when he was a high school senior, titled, “From Katrina To The Gridiron.” View that feature here.

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