Jim Gazzolo column: Chambers finds home at McNeese

Back in the early days of 2020, before blue tarps littered our skyline and campers were used for camping, Isaiah Chambers came to Lake Charles looking for a new home.

The star defensive end found the perfect place to finish his college football career.

He latched on to a rebuilding McNeese State program that was in need of talent after academic troubles left a void on the roster.

None of that mattered to Chambers. The transfer from Houston was looking for a place to play.

“I just wanted to get on the field, find a place where I could continue my career,” Chambers said. “And I wanted a chance to finally show what I could do.”

His career up to that point had been hit or miss with a lot of sit. He left Texas A&M to return home to take care of a sick family member.

Having lost his parents at a young age, Chambers felt family was first, even before football.

That should have been the tip of what McNeese was getting.

He played at Houston but coaching changes often left him as the odd man out. So with one season of eligibility remaining, Chambers went on the hunt for that new home.

No question he had options, but he fell in love with the community we call home, quickly becoming one of us.

So when the school year ended in the spring of 2020 Chambers came to Lake Charles excited to finally have a normal season.

Sadly, he never got close to that.

Two months after his arrival, Chambers was homeless. Hurricane Laura had taken everything he owned, including the roof over his head.

Having almost stayed for the storm, he was finally convinced at the last minute by family and friends to evacuate to his home in Houston.

“I was going to stay,” Chambers said. “I wanted to stay. I’m glad I didn’t.”

When he came back, Chambers was stunned with the devastation. Unlike many of the rest of us who were in the same boat, he had options.

Then again, if you know Chambers, he really didn’t.

“I never thought about leaving,” he said. “Lake Charles had become my home. The team was my family. They had taken me in. You don’t leave family.”

So he stayed. He even got the famous GoFundMe page to help him remake his life.

“Lake Charles and its people were great to me,” Chambers said.

He responded with spectacular play over an 18-game, two-season Cowboys career that lasted 10 months. Granted an extra year by the NCAA to play due to COVID-19, Chambers continued to shine on the field.

This week he was named the Southland Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. His 10.5 sacks led the league despite getting held, double-teamed and generally beaten up on every snap.

“They do everything to him and it doesn’t stop him,” McNeese head coach Frank Wilson said. “He’s just a stud.”

Since February Chambers has 18 sacks, becoming the first Cowboy in history to average one quarterback take down a game per his career.

He has earned all-American honors and is on every national awards watch list he qualifies for. He is also a must-see for NFL scouts during the upcoming pro draft days and was invited to the Hula Bowl for senior stars.

That is how he has given back to Lake Charles.

“He has really done so much to help this community, he is a very special person,” Wilson said.

Chambers will leave McNeese with a graduate degree in criminal justice and as one of the best players in program history.

He will be remembered for being much more than that.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com