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Mardi Gras: Jamaal Charles will serve as grand marshal

 

Special to The News

PORT ARTHUR — NFL runningback and favorite son of Port Arthur Jamaal Charles will serve as the grand marshal of the 2019 Mardi Gras Southeast Texas.

Charles will be the featured rider on the Lamar State College Port Arthur Mardi Gras float on the March 2, Total Krewe of Aurora Grand Parade. He will also be honored with a private reception hosted by LSCPA prior to the parade.

A graduate of Port Arthur Memorial High School, Charles catapulted himself onto the national stage as a record-breaking NFL runningback.

He started his football career as a back for Memorial. During his junior season in 2004, he ran for 2,051 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading the Titans to the Class 5A, Division II quarterfinals. He was named first team all state by the Texas Sports Writers Association and second team all-state by the Associated Press.

As an encore, Charles ran for 2,056 yards and 25 TDs his senior year. The AP named him to its first team all-state squad. He was also named to the 2005 Parade magazine All-American Football Team.

Locally, he won the Willie Ray Smith Award as the most valuable offensive player both his junior and seniors season. He also represented the Titans in the 2005 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

He was recruited and signed by the University of Texas football team, where he collected 878 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing his freshman season and 831 yards and seven TDs his sophomore year.

Charles had a breakout season in 2007, collecting 1,619 yards rushing his junior year. As a result, he became a hot commodity in the NFL Draft. Deciding to forego his senior season at UT, Charles was eventually selected in the 2008 NFL Draft as the 73rd overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Charles spent the next nine seasons with Kansas City and although he had a slow start his first year, he dominated most of the remaining seasons as a Chiefs runningback.

His best seasons came in between 2012 and 2014 when he rushed for 1,509 yards with five touchdowns, 1,287 yards and 12 TDs, and 1,033 yards and nine TDs, respectively.

In 2014 he went to Denver and finally landed in Jacksonville in 2018 where he played just two games. He remains an unsigned free agent heading into 2019 though indications are that the superstar back will announce his retirement officially sometime this year.

Charles averaged 5.4 yards per carry over his career, the most for a runningback with at least 1,000 career attempts. Charles also was one of the better pass-catching running backs of his time, with 310 career receptions.

And while football has been a lifelong love of the Port Arthur native, it is with the Special Olympics that Charles can show his love for those who struggled as he did as a young man.

“I’ve been asked to talk about courage. But I can’t talk about courage without talking about fear. Before I had a chance to be an All-American runningback at Memorial High School, before I had a chance to win a national championship at the University of Texas and attaining academic honors, before I had the chance to become a professional athlete all-pro running back in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, before all those wonderful moments, I was afraid. I was lost,” he said. “I had trouble reading. I found out I had a learning disability. People made fun of me. They said I would never go anywhere.

“But I learned I can fly,” he said during the 2015 opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles. “When I was 10 years I had the chance to compete in the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics gave me my first chance to discover a talent I did not know I had.”

Charles and his wife Whitney together have three children.