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Bears’ Lance Louis: Struggles growing up in New Orleans made me stronger

Bears guard Lance Louis’ status for game Sunday New Orleans is up air because an ankle injury. | Nam Y.

Bears guard Lance Louis’ status for the game Sunday in New Orleans is up in the air because of an ankle injury. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: November 10, 2011 11:10AM

Growing up in the West Bank of New Orleans, Lance Louis dreamed of someday playing in the Louisiana Superdome, but he wasn’t quite sure how to get there.

His status for Sunday is up in the air since he hasn’t practiced the last two days because of an ankle injury, but Louis is the Bears’ starting right guard, and he has fulfilled his goal of playing in the NFL thanks largely to his mother, Janice, and a high school coach, Skip LaMothe.

“I grew up a Saints fan, and I always wanted to play football at the Superdome,” Louis said, “and just going back is an unreal experience.

“I’m in the NFL, and I’m going back to my hometown. What a blessing.”

His father largely absent from his life since he was 10, Louis, his mother and his two younger sisters struggled for bare necessities, then endured one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Still, as he reflects on his past and present, Louis has no regrets.

“Everything made me the person I am today,” he said. “I wouldn’t change nothing that happened in my life. All the hardships and adversity, you get through, and it makes you a stronger person.”

Katrina chaos

Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, slowly picking up steam as it moved from Florida toward the Gulf Coast. The winds topped out at a speed of 175 mph, wreaking havoc on Mississippi and New Orleans, where levees broke and more than 80 percent of the city was flooded.

“When the storm came in,” said Louis, who was on a football scholarship at San Diego State, “I wasn’t able to get in touch with none of my family.”

Hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks.

“You would see it every day on the news,’’ Louis said. ‘‘People dying. Bodies floating around. Water up high. You just wonder, ‘Man, I just hope my family is OK.’ I wouldn’t know what to do, man, if one of them got hurt.

“I wouldn’t know what to do.”

After three weeks, though, Louis got a phone call from his mother, but she was somewhere in Texas. For a few months, they ended up in San Antonio, where they were provided food and shelter.

Janice was with Louis’ sisters, his grandmother and an aunt at a hotel in San Antonio. They had food and shelter, but they still needed money, so Louis sent what he could.

“I was a student at college, so I wasn’t living that good,” he said. “But you have no problem doing that for your loved ones.”

During his winter break, Louis and his family reunited, but New Orleans wasn’t the same.

“New Orleans was dead and depressing,” he said.

Supporting his family

Louis gets emotional talking about the challenges for his family.

He’s a proud “mama’s boy,” calling her his best friend.

He declines to provide details of why his parents separated.

They moved across the river to the West Bank, where Janice had difficulty maintaining the lifestyle Louis’ father helped provide.

Nice clothes and shoes were history, and meals weren’t a given.

“When he left,” Louis said of his father, “it was just hard.”

Without his older brother around, either, Louis fended for himself, searching for male mentors. With natural athleticism, he poured his energy into sports, aspiring to play in the NFL.

Only he didn’t know how to get there because no one in his immediate family had been to college.

Then, during his junior year at L.B. Landry High School, Lance met LaMothe.

A graduate of Landry, LaMothe was the offensive coordinator at another school in the city when his alma mater offered him the head-coaching job.

“I didn’t want to be doing the same things and doing it the rest of my life,” Louis said. “I wanted to do more. I wanted it, but I didn’t know how to get it.

‘He opened my eyes’

LaMothe was strict, demanding that his players wear shirts and ties to school on game days and making them complete homework before practice started.

Considered a top-10 tight-end prospect coming out of high school, Louis had plenty of college options, but he picked the Aztecs because he was impressed by the location of the school and an opportunity to play right away.

“I think he gives me more credit than I deserve,” LaMothe said. “He wanted to be special and be something in life. I was just fortunate to coach him.”

After the Bears’ preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns, Louis surprised LaMothe and others and returned to New Orleans. Landry was playing its first high school football game since Katrina, and Louis couldn’t miss it.

“I wanted to go and show my support. I’m alumni, and I wanted to give the kids someone to look up to,” Louis said. “I like being home and just showing people that anybody can be anything they want to be.”

LaMothe, though, noted that Louis watched the game despite a driving rainstorm, and he resisted when they asked him to serve as an honorary captain.

“If you don’t know it already, you would never know he’s in the NFL,” LaMothe said. “He’s not a prima donna.

“He’s just Lance.”

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