Drew Brees, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, has thrown plenty of game-winning touchdown passes during his career. And on May 9, he threw another one as the top attraction at the fourth annual Rising Stars Luncheon benefiting After-School All-Stars North Texas at Brook Hollow Golf Club. The ASASNT nonprofit offers free, comprehensive after-school programs that keep middle-school students in Dallas safe and prepared to succeed in school and later life.
Clad in dark jeans, a sport coat and an Untuckit shirt — he’s an investor in and a commercial pitchman for the company, wouldn’t you know — Drew demonstrated his star power from the get-go, when he arrived for the luncheon’s packed VIP reception. Eager fans, including Mary McDermott Cook with Dan Patterson, Ciara Cooley and her dad Clay Cooley and Shannon and Ted Skokos, lined up there for a photo and a quick word with Drew, who was unfailingly polite.
Then it was off to the ballroom, where the roughly 285 guests settled in to enjoy Brook Hollow’s renowned pecan-crusted chicken — and the formal program. They were welcomed by ASASNT’s Founding Board Chair Phil Terry, who introduced the nonprofit’s Regional Executive Director Tyler Chandler and Chief Development Officer Andrea Bazan. Phil then brought to the stage ASASNT’s Executive Director Marissa Castro Mikoy, who announced Ben Lange as the recipient of the group’s first-ever Champion Award.
Said Marissa: “Ben, you truly embody the phrase, mission-driven.” She said it with good reason. Ben, chairman of the ASASNT advisory board for the last three years, helped expand the annual luncheon and land a $592,142 grant from the 2018 Crystal Charity Ball. The CCB gift will launch the first-ever after-school and summer program at Dallas’ E.D. Walker Middle School.
With that, Dallas Cowboys broadcaster Brad Sham took center stage to talk up donating to ASASNT — “For $1,000, you can provide a student with full after-school programs for one year,” he said — before giving way to ASASNT alum Wallace Wyatt III and Kaiyona Hepbourn, an eighth-grade student at Life School Oak Cliff Secondary. Kaiyona, who attends an ASASNT cooking club at school and wants eventually to own a baking business, told how the nonprofit was preparing her for the future: “I can achieve higher than ‘just okay’ because … I’ve made friends and my leaders value and believe in me.”
Then Drew joined Brad to make yet another pitch for funds — “It takes a village, y’all, and you’re the village!” the QB said — before the two settled into comfortable chairs as a big screen showed $470 had been pledged for ASASNT during the event so far. In a frank, wide-ranging conversation, Drew told Brad that although he’d grown up in Austin and led his high school to a Texas state football championship, Texas A&M “blew me off” and The University of Texas “never called me.” So he wound up attending Purdue University in Indiana, where, during his senior year, he quarterbacked the football team to its first Big Ten championship in more than three decades. “We were hungry,” Drew explained.
After being drafted by the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, Drew dislocated his “throwing shoulder” during his fifth year there, he said, and doctors gave him only a 25 percent chance of ever playing again. However, Drew added, “God’s plan had me going to New Orleans.” He joined the Saints (3-13 in 2005) as a free agent in 2006, Drew recalled, after a strange “recruiting” visit during which Saints head coach Sean Payton got lost driving the QB around New Orleans, which was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and looked like a “war zone.”
Brees had a different take on the Big Easy. “My wife and I said, ‘This is truly a calling. This is about more than football,’ ” Drew said. “It was about the resurrection of one of America’s great cities.” Once his signing was announced, Drew told Brad, “People came up to me in restaurants and said, ‘Thank you for wanting to be a part of this community.’ ” It paid off big-time several seasons later, when New Orleans went 13-3 and won Super Bowl XLIV over the Indianapolis Colts.
Talking about his football career — and life in general — Drew said, “The plan is in your heart. God takes you through the steps.” When Brad asked him how long he intends to play, Drew, who’s 40, replied, “Honestly, it’s one year at a time. … When I walk away, I want to do it on my own terms.” He has, he said, one year left on his contract with the Saints.
Wrapping up the luncheon, Drew helped Brad announce the names of the raffle winners, who took home prizes ranging from a custom suit to autographed footballs. As the guests filed out, the big screen showed pledges to ASASNT had swelled to $23,184. Talk about a game winner!