August 31, 2005

New Orleans prospects starting over

They may never go home again.

While many high school prospects across the nation are getting pumped up to play their season opener, it takes only a quick glance at the news to find that players in New Orleans and the southern end of Mississippi have more than football on their minds.

Kendrick Lewis, an Ole Miss commit who attended O.P. Walker High School, and UCLA commit Jeremy McGee of Edna Carr are two former New Orleans prospects who have been displaced by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Lewis shared his feelings about the situation in an exclusive interview with Rivals.com.

"I really feel bad," Lewis said via cell phone Wednesday afternoon from Houston. "I have no choice but to start my life completely over. We have lost everything. We got out of New Orleans with a few personal belongings and the clothes on our backs."

Louisiana and New Orleans officials are saying the death toll may be well into the thousands, and it may take more than a year to rebuild the city. Rescue operations are ongoing, as volunteers and city officials are still searching throughout the devastation.

"We are all visibly shaken, we lost everything, we only have the clothes on our back and a few extra items of clothing," Kendrick's uncle Sheldon Lewis said. "Kendrick lost all of his trophies he has won over the years, all of his pictures. But we still have our memories."

And while Kendrick Lewis is thankful he is safe with family and friends, the relatives he left behind are on his mind and heart right now.

"My grandmother and cousins went to stay at a hotel on Canal Street," Lewis said. "We aren't able to reach them and we don't know if they made it through this or not.
"It breaks my heart that New Orleans may never be the same," Lewis said. "I just hope all my family got out a live. I hope and pray my grandmother and cousins are OK."

Sheldon Lewis added that the main priority is to find schools for these young men to finish up their high school education.

"Kendrick and Jeremy have their lives ahead of them, we have to find a high school to get them enrolled at so they can complete their education and their athletic careers," Sheldon Lewis said. "Both have scholarship offers and both have committed to specific colleges, so it's important for them to get their education and continue their lives somewhere else."

Sheldon adds how hard his nephew has worked this summer preparing for his senior season.

"Kendrick worked every single day this summer for his season opener that was supposed to take place this coming Friday," Sheldon said. "Now that game will never come and he will never play another game for O.P. Walker High School."

The state of Texas has said refugee students can attend school, providing free books and lunch. It is not known if these students will be allowed to participate in football. A school that the family is looking into is Houston' Madison High. That school is located in the neighborhood of some family friends.

"We plan on getting an apartment and restart our lives here in Houston," Kendrick Lewis said. "We want to find the best school and the best opportunity for us to finish our education so we can continue to the next level."

Lewis has been in contact with his recruiter at Ole Miss.

"I called Coach Frank Wilson a little while ago to let him know that I was OK," Lewis said. "You could tell his only concern was mine and my family's well being. He let me know that everyone cared about me and that I had a scholarship at Ole Miss no matter if I play this fall or not. That's one thing I won't have to worry about. Coach Wilson is currently worried about his family as well as he has over 60 family members affected."

Both Lewis and McGee are trying to keep their spirits up, but as they try to move on, they can't wait until they hear that their families are safe and they will be together once again with their loved ones.

Even if it isn't at the place they used to call home.

Rivals.com encourages donations to the American Red Cross. You can specify your donation go toward "2005 Hurricane Relief." To make donations, please click here.

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