By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerDecember 4, 2012
FORT POLK, La. -- When Kevin Mawae was asked if he would be part of a football skills clinic for the children of Soldiers stationed at Fort Polk, the former NFL All-Pro center said the answer was easy.
"Of course," Mawae said as he joined four other former NFL players Nov. 27 at Fort Polk's Perez Youth Field for the event. "It's a way to give back to the community and let kids know they can be anything they want to be if they just work at it."
That message rang especially true since Mawae's background was similar to that of most of the kids on the field.
"My dad was career Army and I started playing football when I was 8 years old on a military base in Hanau, Germany," Mawae said. "I know that as a military kid you move around a lot and you might have a tendency to think you don't have the same opportunities as someone who has lived in one place all of their life. But if you want it bad enough and are willing to work for it, you can do it."
Mawae was one of five former NFL players who took part in the clinic held in conjunction with a Hiring Our Heroes job fair on Fort Polk hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mawae said the NFL Players Association has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to host football skills clinics at each job fair the chamber holds for veterans and their Families.
"The NFL Players Association feels that it's important to support our veterans," he said.
Mawae prepped at Leesville High School while his dad was stationed at Fort Polk.
"I've played on Fort Polk's Honor Field," he told the audience of kids and parents. "When I was a kid that was the only field on Fort Polk; this field you have today is really great for sports."
Joining Mawae for the clinic were former LSU Tigers Trev Faulk and Chad Jones, and former New Orleans Saints Irv Smith and Mike McKenzie.
"I do this for the kids," said Jones, who attended high school in Baton Rouge after his family was uprooted from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
"A lot of kids don't have an opportunity to even see a professional football player, much less play with them."
Smith, who was a favorite of Saints fans after being drafted in the first round by the franchise in 1993, flew in from Phoenix, Ariz., to take part in the clinic.
"Every chance I get to come back and encourage kids I do it," Smith said. "I want them to realize that they can be as successful as I was, if not better."
While the young athletes enjoyed rubbing shoulders with all of the pros, it was Mawae with his Fort Polk roots that garnered most of the attention. Youngsters and parents alike paraded before the 16-year pro football veteran and former president of the NFLPA, presenting him with footballs, caps, jerseys and even scraps of paper for an autograph. Mawae patiently signed each one.
"God said that to whom much is given, much is required," said Mawae, a born-again Christian. "God looked on my career with favor so I try to give back in all aspects of my life."
For 14-year-old Dante Weatherholt, son of Sgt. Maj. Michael and Omalia Weatherholt, the clinic was something he would not soon forget.
"It's cool that everyone is here having fun with the NFL players," Weatherholt said. "I'm really surprised that five NFL players came to Fort Polk. To me, it shows how much they care about the Army, veterans and our Families."