PLEASANTVILLE - Kaiwan Lewis sat in his apartment in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago and heard about some recent bad news from his hometown.
He wanted to bring something positive to the kids of Pleasantville and give back to the community. For him, there wasn't a more ideal way to do it than on the football field.
Lewis, a rising junior linebacker at the University of South Carolina, got together Saturday with the Pleasantville Jokers Junior Football League team, as well as some former high school teammates and opponents, to host a free football clinic. About 20 kids ages 6 to 14 came out to the Max Manning Field Complex at Park Avenue Park to listen to the Division I football players talk about life and football.
"I played on the same field as a child, so I wanted to come back and show the kids that there is a way out, and the world is bigger than this community," Lewis said. "I'm not going to be somebody who just made it and forget where I came from."
Lewis was joined by St. Joseph High School graduates and Sicklerville natives Max Valles and Gordon Hill, as well as Oakcrest graduate Brandon Bell. Hill plays safety at Sacred Heart, Valles plays outside linebacker at Virginia and Bell is a linebacker at Penn State.
The four players set up different drills with the kids. They worked on footwork and coordination by using cones and rope ladders. They then had a little bit of fun, participating in a game of two-hand touch with the kids.
Afterward, Lewis huddled everyone up and talked about his upbringing; how to act in school and toward your parents, teachers and coaches; and just life in general.
"The game of football changed my life, and it showed there was a more positive world out there for me," Lewis said.
Lewis was impressed with how talented some of the kids were at the camp. He joked that even he wasn't this skilled at such a young age.
Some of the kids said they hope to grow up to be just as big and as skilled as the players and coaches teaching them.
"I liked the techniques they showed us, running routes and catching the ball," 13-year-old Dale Reese of Mays Landing said.
Lewis and Bell said they didn't have something like this when they were children. Seeing the kids having fun and listening to what they had to say was rewarding for the college athletes.
"We either had our dad or our older brother take us outside," Bell said," so this is definitely better than anything we ever had. Hopefully we can grow and make it a bigger thing each year."
Lewis had it especially rough growing up, he said. He latched onto football at a young age, and it wasn't until he got to St. Joseph when he saw the sport as a way to get a higher education. He is the first person from his family to go to college.
"That was the best decision of my life I made," Lewis said about St. Joseph, referring to coach Paul Sacco as a second father. "I feel like that really changed my life."
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