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Lewellen shows college athletics more than on-field prestige

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Jacob Lewellen, a junior defensive end on the UK football team, has been nominated for the AFCA Good Works Team. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Jacob Lewellen, a junior defensive end on the UK football team, has been nominated for the AFCA Good Works Team. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The carnage lay before Jacob Lewellen like a bad dream.

Joplin, Mo., a once modest-sized town on the western border of the state, had been ravaged by one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history. Where houses once stood, rubble now lay. Fifty-year-old trees were snapped, splintered and toppled as if they were toothpicks.

So what was Lewellen, a junior defensive end on the Kentucky football team with no ties to the town, doing in Joplin? He was doing the only thing he knows how to do: helping others in need.

"Getting involved with the community is just one of those things that has kind of opened my eyes," Lewellen said. "It allows the community to see us players in a different light. It's one thing to give back because I get all the opportunities being a college athlete, but to give back what precious time you have is important because people need it."

Lewellen's philanthropy efforts haven't gone unnoticed as he was recently announced as a nominee for the prestigious Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, widely considered to be college football's premier community service award.

"To give back is more than how it makes me feel; it's getting to see the smiles on those other people's faces or getting to experience it with your teammates and other athletes on campus," Lewellen said. "That's how you grow as a team, and when you grow as a team in the community it just makes sports and athletics that much more fun to be around."

Lewellen hasn't been the star player on UK's football team, recording just two tackles over the last two seasons, but his numbers on the field aren't what define him. A two-time defensive Scout Team Player of the Week as a sophomore, Lewellen knows his hard work in preparing the team doesn't go unnoticed by his peers. He also knows his role with the team is still evolving and changing.

"A lot of coaches rely on me to know what's going on, to know film, to know behind the scenes work, to help get the players who are playing ready," Lewellen said. "... To prepare my team the best way I can has been exciting and exhilarating because people notice it. It's just kind of one of those things where I'm glad my teammates appreciate what I do for them."

What Lewellen doesn't have in statistics, he does have in community service deeds that make him a greater star in the eyes of so many others. Participating in the community has been something he's practiced and preached frequently during his time with the Wildcats, so when Joplin was devastated in May by a tornado that killed more than 100 people, it was Lewellen who responded like a star and found a way to contribute.

Lewellen, who has spent his past two spring breaks with "Athletes in Action" doing mission work in Nicaragua and Daytona Beach, Fla., got the idea to help the town of Joplin, after hearing of a shoe drive at Southland Christian Church. Lewellen got together with several other UK athletes and staff members and packed bags on the back patio at the Nutter Training Center to take to Joplin.

Lewellen also got teammates from the football team to donate some of their money to the cause, and together, he, his dad and teammate Max Godby drove to Joplin to help out.

The three men went to a church in Joplin where they delivered 100 bags filled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer, folders, pens, pencils, paper and bibles. In Joplin, Lewellen saw schools, hospitals and houses leveled to the ground. Working for about eight hours in 100-degree heat, Lewellen was taken aback at the experience.

"It's crazy to see how much that tornado just devastated everything," Lewellen said. "It's like a bomb went off in each separate house."

Lewellen's work to organize the donations and drive down, personally, to the town is just one example of his off-field résumé. Lewellen has also been a guest speaker at local elementary schools, met with local veterans and befriended a 3-year-old cancer patient named Josh at Lexington's Hope Lodge.

His drive, he says, to commit his time to the community and help others in need, comes from his faith and religion.

"Those values that have been instilled in me motivate me to do it," Lewellen said. "I've kind of had a life where I had everything. I haven't needed any help; my parents covered everything. I'm lucky. But to go anywhere and see kids, adults, anyone who needs help, is like, 'I have extra time.' It might only be an hour or two here or there, but I can go work at a community center in downtown Lexington, hang out with kids, help them stay out of trouble, or go to Joplin, or go to Nicaragua, or go to places not everyone gets to go to and donate some time."

To be named to the AFCA Good Works Team would be nice, Lewellen said, but it's not about being recognized per say. Instead, Lewellen said it's about the act itself, and whether he wins it or not, that will always be the case.

"It's all about doing it for fun and doing it because I have a platform not everyone else has," Lewellen said. "Kids in the community recognize you when you're a college athlete because they know it takes something a little extra to play college sports. They see that we give back, with our busy schedules, and it makes them want to do better. We just get involved with their lives and they start to change.

"To give back as much as I can is all I can really do because Kentucky has given me so much."

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