Finding foundation


Kyries Hebert

Kyries Hebert, the incumbent Bengals special teams captain, finds himself in his annual roster battle as the NFL summer vacation beckons. But he has decided to attack his newly-formed foundation with the same straight-ahead implosions that have characterized his 35 team-leading special-teams tackles the past two seasons since he blew in from Canada like some sort of Doppler Radar incident.

"When people ask me what my foundation is about, I tell them it's just like me," Hebert says. "It's kind of all over the board. When you care, you don't care about one thing."

At the moment, "Ky Cares" is riding the momentum of the April 4 venture into his hometown of Eunice, La., population 11,499. More importantly, median family income less than $30,000. Fellow safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Roy Williams, as well as linebacker Keith Rivers, made the trip with Hebert to what is known as "the heart of Cajun country," 30 miles north and west of Lafayette to put on Hebert's football camp, as well as a cheerleading and dance camp.

The way the foundation words it, it has been created "to enrich the lives of youth in southwest Louisiana as well as in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati."

"We had a total of 320 kids; I graduated in a class of 117," Hebert says. "I never had an experience like that as a kid. We met a couple of pro athletes and (they) signed a couple of autographs. But not affect their lives and to be able to speak to them about the importance of hard work, discipline and education. We want to reach out to the young men of the community, but a lot of times young girls get left out and I know some ladies with NFL and NBA cheerleading experience and they were able to help us as well. I want to keep it going."

That's because this isn't the first time Hebert has helped his town, but it's the first time he's got help. He's put out his own money to fund a college scholarship at Eunice's Greater True Light Baptist Church for the athlete in the congregation with the highest grade point average. When he played in Winnipeg, he did an event for breast cancer awareness on his birthday, Oct. 9.

But this time his friends in Northern Kentucky heard about it and stepped up to help. One of the differences between playing in the Canadian Football League and the NFL? Hebert met the Attorney General of Kentucky, Jack Conway, found out he wanted to help the foundation, and has become an acquaintance. Hebert, who lives in Independence, Ky., has set a July 17 fundraiser at the Fort Mitchell, Ky., home of attorney Michael Plummer, another who has volunteered to help.

"It really meant something to me that several people in Northern Kentucky wanted to help the kids of southwest Louisiana," Hebert said. "So I want to give something back. I want to do a camp here in Northern Kentucky, where I live, and in Cincinnati, where I work. I want to be able to show them and talk to them what I've been through and been able to accomplish. Go into schools and talk about education and go into churches and talk about the importance of God in my life."

It certainly has been an interesting life. Once the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the CFL (Hebert's first bid to sign with the Bengals was blunted two years before because of the league's salary cap), he grew up craving to play in the NFL. At 29, he is now headed into his third season as Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons' main man. The coaches selected him as the Bengals special teams player on the fans' Pro Bowl ballot. He has captained a division champion. After getting to know Conway, he recently made an appearance for him at a dinner during Conway's successful run at the Democratic nomination for one of Kentucky's U.S. Senate seats.

But Hebert also knows he's fighting for a roster spot. Everywhere he looks, people are saying he's not supposed to make it this year. The Bengals are going to keep four safeties and six cornerbacks, right? They never use him from scrimmage, right? The four safeties are set, right? Williams, Ndukwe, Chris Crocker and Gibril Wilson, right?

Hebert smiles.

"I should just quit right now," he says with mock seriousness. "That's a joke. I love to come to work. I love to play. I love to compete. As long as I have the opportunity to work and compete, at the end of the day I never have any regrets because I never leave anything on the field. I like a fight, too. It's been like this every other year."

Which isn't a bad lesson for the kids, either.

The foundation is here no matter what.

And the roster isn't set yet.

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