In the South, fall Friday nights mean one thing: high school football.
But with Hurricane Katrina shutting down schools in New Orleans, thousands of student-athletes scrambled to find a school to go to, a place to play.
MTV's Gideon Yago reports for The Early Show that high school senior Kendrick Lewis, a Division I college football prospect with a shoebox full of offers, was getting ready for a game when he was forced to leave his home in New Orleans. He never imagined he'd be leaving for good.
Five hundred miles away from Katrina's misery in the town of Gainesville, Ga., manic fans were shouting his name while he played on the football field. It's almost impossible to imagine this high school senior has been in Georgia for only three weeks.
"I went in there and I told the teammates: I'm going to be here, and I'm going to make it better," Lewis says. "I'm going to work hard, and I'm going to make sure that each and every last one of you all work hard."
For Lewis it's not just about football, it's about his future, and the way out of a tough New Orleans neighborhood. So when Hurricane Katrina blew through, it blew out his chance to play at his high school and secure a scholarship to college.
"I'm thinking it's a dream," he says. "So I'm like, man, this can't be happening."
The storm destroyed all that his family had. And his mother, Clarissa, feared her son had lost his only hope for a better life.
Sharing what the neighborhood was like, Clarissa Lewis says, "It was all right, but a lot of killing. Every night, or every other day, somebody was getting killed. And I prayed to God that my son was nothing like that."
Just how Kendrick Lewis wound up at Gainesville High School is totally random. After his mother realized that the family had lost everything in New Orleans, she started to rebuild by picking up a phone book and calling city after city, hoping to find a new home for her family. It was the local housing authority in Gainesville that offered her a place to stay and her son a new school.
The day after he enrolled, Kendrick Lewis went straight to football practice.
For anybody who's a prospect for college ball, coach Bruce Miller says that last semester of the senior year is "the most important thing."
An added bonus for Miller is that Kendrick Lewis is one of the top wide receivers in the nation.
"What makes him so good is he's such a good kid on top of that," Miller says. "I've seen a lot of kids move in and say, 'When's my glory coming?' That's not Kendrick."
What kind of player is Lewis?
"He's a great one. He really is," Miller says, choking up. "Sorry. This is too good to be true. Here's a kid that lost everything. And we could accommodate, that we could provide him something that he wasn't going to have, it's just a good feeling that comes over you."
In his first game Lewis helped his new team, the Red Elephants, beat their arch rivals.
"I was signing autographs after my first game," Lewis says. "And I never thought it would be like that in high school. So they treat me tremendously good."
His mother has been treated well, too. She has a job in the high school cafeteria and is excited to watch her son play in his second game, against an undefeated team.
Lewis scored two touchdowns, helping Gainesville win again. His dad, who lives in Georgia, is there to see it all. Kendrick Lewis is surrounded by his family, new friends and young fans. Life is looking up for Kendrick.
"I tell people all the time, it's not about he's a good player, but he's a great kid, and that's what it's about," Miller says.
Kendrick Lewis and his family lost everything to Katrina. But they found kindness in a new place that's feeling more like home everyday.
Though Kendrick Lewis has a scholarship offer from one college, others are definitely interested.
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