WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Keenan Lewis is running for defensive captain of the Saints.
Can running for mayor of West Bank be far behind?
Actually, that’s not possible. Algiers, Gretna, Marrero, Terrytown, Westwego, Avondale, Bridge City and everything else on that side of the Mississippi all fall under different municipal entities. But you get the idea.
Lewis is the lone member of the Saints who is actually a native of New Orleans. That makes the seventh-year cornerback acutely aware of the deep emotional attachment his fellow Who Dats have to the Black and Gold.
“I know the passion and love people have,” the O. Perry Walker graduate said after Friday’s second day of preseason drills at The Greenbrier. “Sometimes I felt they were more hurt than we were last year because we let them down. Those people work hard to buy tickets and come out on Sundays to help us out. I’ve got to do all I can to make the fans happy.”
That’s where the captaincy comes in.
Both of last year’s defensive captains — Curtis Lofton and Junior Galette — are gone.
And Lewis, although going into only his third season with the Saints, finds himself as one of the senior members of the defense.
Lewis acknowledged he was somewhat reticent about being a vocal leader in his first two years on the team, ceding those duties to those who had been around longer.
But as things came apart at the end of last season, Lewis was foremost in voicing his concerns.
“There was too much worrying about other things last year, too many egos,” he said. “We’ve got to stop that and play like a family.”
Lewis hasn’t stopped, preaching work ethic and accountability above all.
“Lots of young guys come up to me every day,” he said. “I show them how to work, that this isn’t college and every second and very play counts. The young guys need to know that they need to be ready all the time because things like injuries happen and, sooner or later, you’re going to be called on to make that play.”
Lewis’ pay-it-forward attitude comes from his four seasons with Pittsburgh, where veterans like Troy Polamalu and fellow West Bankers Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark instilled those values in him.
“They preached detail and accountability,” Lewis said. “They expected you to be ready on every play.”
Besides pep talks to the rookies, Lewis’ campaign includes playing up to his fellow veterans.
He gave up the No. 28 jersey he had worn for the past two years to new teammate C.J. Spiller, albeit at a price Lewis would not reveal.
He praises the work of third-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, calling him “Maniac” because of his attitude. Fellow cornerback Brandon Browner, a teammate at Oregon State, is “Giraffe” because of his height, although Lewis adds, “He plays like a lion.”
Lewis hasn’t excused himself from what happens on the field.
The only member of the secondary to have played all 16 games the past two seasons, Lewis has dedicated himself to training and says “I’ve got the legs of a rookie.”
He also has embraced the team’s emphasis on man coverage this year.
“It makes you accountable on every play,” he said. “And you don’t want to become the guy they’re throwing at all the time.”
Lewis said his core values come from his mother, Muriel.
“She taught me about doing the right thing all the time and showing others the way,” he said. “When you have somebody in your life like that, it becomes second nature.”
Muriel Lewis also played a big part in influencing her son’s decision when he became a free agent in 2013 and had offers from San Diego, Philadelphia, Oakland, Tennessee and Atlanta. She kept texting him to sign with the Saints, both to fulfill a longtime family dream initiated by Rev. Joseph Lewis, Keenan’s grandfather, and to get her granddaughter Kalise Genie Lewis in New Orleans year-round.
“I’ve been a Saints fan from when I was born,” Keenan Lewis said. “That’s why this matters so much to me. I want kids to look at me and know what they can do with their lives. Everybody has a team, but New Orleans is my life.”
So, Saints players and maybe someday local citizens, vote for Keenan Lewis or, as he puts it, “Mr. West Bank.”
Mayor Lewis. Governor Lewis. President Lewis.