Walker: NFL stars Keenan Lewis, Mike Wallace give back

NFL stars and high school teammates Lewis, Wallace conduct first football camp

According to the T-shirts the kids were wearing at Behrman Stadium on Saturday, it was the Keenan Lewis and Mike Wallace Football Camp.

But it felt more like a good ole family reunion on the West Bank, with Lewis and Wallace serving as co-hosts.

The sun was scorching. There was barbecue and snow cones. And there was music, including the sounds of Frankie Beverly and Maze booming from the speakers at one point as 500 kids went through football drills guided by NFL and college players.

Lewis and Wallace, more like brothers than childhood friends, were back together again, just like old times, in the same stadium their NFL dreams first began taking shape when they starred at O. Perry Walker High School.

“This just shows that hard work pays off,” Lewis said. “A lot of people didn’t see the hard work Mike and I put in when we could’ve been going to the movies or something but we were here on a Saturday or Sunday at Behrman Stadium working. It’s just an honor and a blessing from God for us to be able to live our dreams.”

Lewis, a defensive back for the Saints, and Wallace, a receiver with the Miami Dolphins, are hoping to help other kids reach their dreams as well.

It is why they joined forces to hold their first camp together.

“That’s my brother, so it’s always good to come back with him,” Wallace said. “We have a lot of love for each. Both of us love the neighborhood we grew up in. We have a lot of kids with talent in this neighborhood. They just need a little motivation and a little guidance.”

While the day was filled with football drills, Lewis said the day was about much more than just the game.

“Our cause is all about giving back to the neighborhood and showing them that we really do care,” Lewis said. “We are trying to make a difference by stopping the violence in our neighborhoods. The police can’t do everything. Our main goal is to come out and change lives.”

Muriel Lewis and Sonjia Wallace, the mothers of the two NFL stars, flashed big smiles as they looked at the turnout of the first camp held by their two sons.

“Proud. That’s the best word I can think of to describe this,” Sonjia Wallace said. “It touches my heart.”

Muriel Lewis pointed to a section in the stands of Behrman Stadium, reminiscing.

“I remember sitting in these stands, and every day Keenan would tell me ‘I’m going to the NFL,’ ” she recalled. “I remember when Keenan was the same size as these little kids and playing on this field. So to come back and see so many children out here and all cooperating and having a good time is just overwhelming for me.”

She then pointed to the bleachers on the opposite sideline, filled with parents watching their children participate in the camp.

“You see all those parents in the stands watching their kids?” she asked. “They didn’t just send their kids here or just drop them off. They are here watching, and that’s very important. When your kid tells you they have a dream, the parents need to support that.”

The parents watched their sons beat the odds and make it.

The Wallaces almost made their son stop playing because he battled asthma as a kid.

And Muriel Lewis was afraid her son was too skinny.

But it all became a reality on that Sunday in April of 2009.

Wallace, who starred at Ole Miss, was chosen in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lewis, who went to Oregon State, was taken about an hour later.

Also by the Steelers.

“When Keenan hung up that phone from (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin, I think all of Algiers lit up,” Muriel Lewis said. “Nobody could believe that as close as they were, they both went to the same team and in the same round. Algiers literally just lit up that day. Fifteen minutes later, I had about 300 messages in my phone. People were texting in church and everything. It was such a big thing. And today, they are still like brothers.”

Brothers to each other. And big brothers to others.

Anthony Johnson, former defensive tackle at O. Perry Walker and LSU and now with the Miami Dolphins, grew up looking up to Lewis and Wallace. So he wasn’t about to miss out on an opportunity to help out with Saturday’s camp.

“I grew up watching those guys, so to have that NFL shield behind my name now too is just a blessing,” he said. “To come back and help these young kids progress on and off the field is something that you just have to do. A lot of these kids come from single-parent homes. I’m trying to walk in their shoes and just help this Algiers community.”

Johnson was one of several NFL players on hand. Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Houston Texans safety Kendrick Lewis also attended.

“It’s a New Orleans reunion,” Green-Ellis said.

Saturday was just Day 1.

The Keenan Lewis Foundation will return Sunday for a back-to-school extravaganza from 2-5 p.m. Children will play games and be given a bag filled with school supplies.

“We never had things like this coming up,” Wallace said. “It’s crazy how time flies and to see us now as the older guys coming back. And next year it will be even better.”

His “brother” will be right there with him.

“It’s special to be able to do this with him,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t ask to do it with anyone else.”