Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had a plan but knew it was going to take time. The former first-round draft pick wanted to establish himself in the NFL before he started building his legacy off the field.
In four seasons, Lewis has emerged as one of the league's top tight ends and is a vital part of the Jaguars passing attack. More importantly, Lewis has also begun to thrive away from the gridiron.
Make no mistake, Lewis has been an active member of the Jacksonville community since his arrival in 2006 but he is now taking larger steps to help children in his hometown of Long Beach, California.
The Marcedes Lewis Foundation was established in 2009 to support youth by awarding scholarships to those who wouldn't be able to participate in sports without financial assistance. The ultimate goal is to send a child from Long Beach to college on a full scholarship on an annual basis.
The foundation held the first major fundraiser last weekend in which several athletes and celebrities showed up to support the cause. Lewis held a football camp for youth last year at Long Beach State University, with more events planned in the near future.
This is not just a cause for Lewis, but a mission. His mother, Yvonne Withers, gave birth to him when she was 15 years old and worked tirelessly to make ends meet. There would be no college for Lewis if he didn't excel on the football field like he did at Long Beach Poly, but he credits his mother for making things work.
"She is the strongest woman I know," Lewis said.
Each time Lewis retreats back home, he sees another child he can help that is growing up in the same situation. He remembers his days of caring for his little brother and sister while his mom went off to work. His passion comes from knowing how helpful it would have been to have someone give him guidance along the way.
Lewis grew up on the East side of Long Beach in a low-income community, but that area is what he credits for helping him become the person he is today. If he has anything to do with it, there will be more success stories from the area. He spends time talking to students at his former high school either on the phone or in person.
"I have so much respect for my mom and inner-city kids," Lewis said. "I know how hard it is to make it out. I want to have a positive influence. I'm trying to help them get through however I can. I want to reach out to other players that kind of feel the same way and want to go in together on certain projects."
In addition to his foundation event last week, Lewis spent Thursday afternoon speaking to the graduating class at his alma mater for the second consecutive year.
"I felt nostalgic because I walked back on campus and it was like, 'I'm here again but I'm here for the right reasons,'" Lewis said. "I wish when I was that age we had somebody that would come back and do that. I got a great response from it."
While home will always be on the West Coast, Lewis has entrenched himself in the Jacksonville community. He made the commitment last year to work out with his teammates in the offseason and it has allowed him more time to pursue his interests off the field.
Lewis has become heavily involved with the Jacksonville Humane Society over the past year. Animals have always captured his heart and his English Mastif, Crush, is his passion at home.
Lewis served as a judge at the annual Fur Ball Gala earlier this month. He was a guest at Camp Kindness in 2009 where he talked to children about how to care for their pets. He was honored for his community work in 2008 with the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Community Leader of the Year Award and a donation was made to the Jacksonville Humane Society on his behalf.
"I joke with my mom about it but I think I might open a dog park down the road," Lewis said.
Lewis is grateful for the platform he has today but it didn't happen overnight.
All rookies enter the NFL with their head swimming as they try to learn the nuances of the NFL game, but it's even more demanding for a first-round pick. All eyes were on Lewis in 2006, as they were on Eugene Monroe last year and are now squarely focused on defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.
"The main thing is to be a sponge, soak it all up, be coachable and know that it's a privilege to be in this league," Lewis said. "It's not something that is supposed to happen. If you don't produce you won't be here very long."
Lewis has become a favorite target of quarterback David Garrard in the passing game as he produced eight receptions of 25 yards or more in 2009, the most in a season by a Jaguars tight end. He has 123 career receptions with seven touchdowns and has now become a dominant blocker in the run game as well.
"If I don't produce on the field none of this is possible," Lewis said. "I had to get my feet on the ground and make a name for myself and figure out who I was. I'm fortunate now to be playing this game at one of the highest levels and I feel like people are starting to notice more. My word matters a little bit and now I can make an impact off the field."