Kentucky's Lewis looks to past as motivation

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MCT

Kentucky Wildcats defensive tackle Melvin Lewis (90) and Kentucky Wildcats safety Marcus McWilson (15) celebrate as they walk off the field after the University of Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt University at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 27, 2014. The Wildcats won 17-7. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

Marquis Munson

Lewis grew up in Compton, California, one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles County and one of the most violent cities in Southern California. Known as the home of gangster rap and two of the most violent gangs in the country, Lewis used his surroundings as motivation on the football field.

“It’s one of the hardest things you can do,” Lewis said. “Just having to go through so much stuff I’m overwhelmed to be in the position I am 
in today.”

His father was in and out of prison throughout his childhood and was on drugs up until Lewis was in high school. Through his father’s struggles, he looked after his mother and two younger brothers, using the absence of his father to make him a better man.

“Even though he went through all that stuff, he was always there for us,” Lewis said. “He never turned his back on our family so I can’t thank him enough for that. He just shaped me into the man I am today.”

Lewis played offensive and defensive tackle at Compton High School. After high school, he decided to take the junior college route, attending Fullerton College in California. During his sophomore season, he had 41 tackles and six tackles for losses. He was named first-team All-State and All-Southern Conference, helping Fullerton post a 7-4 record and Southern Conference co-champions.

Lewis decided to go away from home for the next step in his college career and attend Kentucky, but was redshirted in 2013. Last season, he recorded 37 tackles, including nine in the team’s loss to LSU. Lewis has become the vocal leader for the 2015 Wildcats team by using his adversity as motivation on the field.

“Before the game I kind of go to myself and think about everything that I have been through,” Lewis said. “Once I’m on the field I just let it 
all out.”

Back in May, NFL cornerback and Compton native Richard Sherman spoke to the Wildcats football team and to Lewis one-on-one about making it out of the neighborhood.

“He pulled me to the side and was talking about ‘just keep fighting, just don’t give up because you don’t want to go back to our city and just be one of those guys who said, ‘Well I was once there, but this happened,’” Lewis said. “That was definitely an influential talk for me.”

In May, Lewis graduated with a degree in community and leadership development. He became a leader off the field by doing community service on a regular basis and by being a role model to his two brothers. His younger brother graduated from junior college and will play football for New Mexico, and his youngest brother just graduated high school and will play basketball at Washington State.

Lewis said his path isn’t just to make it to the NFL, but to become an advocate for the city of Compton, showing the younger generation that growing up straight out of Compton doesn’t mean it has to stop there.

“Just going back home and being impactful,” Lewis said. “Just helping direct the young kids to a different path, not a path of destruction like most guys go down. I would love to teach, I would love to coach, any kind of way I can have an impact on 
their lives.”