The 40-year-old tight end: Marcedes Lewis back for 19th NFL season to protect Caleb Williams

This story seems familiar. Well, it is familiar. Former UCLA and Long Beach Poly High star Marcedes Lewis is going to play another year in the NFL, his 19th overall.

He’ll set another record for career longevity. He’ll again serve as a mentor, an inspiration, and a dynamic force blocking and catching passes for the Chicago Bears.

And, notably, he’ll be blocking for and catching passes from a quarterback equally familiar to Southland football fans: Caleb Williams, the NFL first overall draft pick after a stellar career at USC.

Williams, 22, had yet to celebrate his first birthday when Lewis stepped on the UCLA campus as a freshman in 2002 and he’d just begun kindergarten when Lewis began his NFL career in 2006 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Read more: Drafted by Bears 25 years ago, another QB from L.A. shares advice for Caleb Williams

After agreeing to a one-year deal Monday to return to the Bears, Lewis has his sights set on overtaking Jason Witten’s record of 271 games played at tight end. Lewis, who has played in 268 games, last year became the longest-tenured tight end in NFL history by playing his 18th season, one more than Witten and Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.

If Lewis plays in at least 15 more games, he will trail only wide receiver Jerry Rice (303), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (296) and cornerback Darrell Green (295) in games by a non-quarterback or specialist.

All but one other player from the 2002 UCLA team that finished 8-5 retired more than a decade ago (backup quarterback Matt Moore lasted in the NFL through 2019). Other first-round picks in 2006 included USC running back Reggie Bush, who retired in 2016, and quarterback Matt Leinart, who retired in 2012.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Lewis played in all 17 games last season for the Bears, serving mostly as a devastating blocker on run plays, especially in the red zone. He had four receptions, bringing his career total to 436, and caught his 40th career touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15.

Lewis, who turned 40 on May 19, is the second-oldest player in the NFL, behind Aaron Rodgers, who will turn 41 on Dec. 2. Lewis and Rodgers were teammates with the Green Bay Packers from 2018 to 2022, and played together in two NFC title games.

Read more: Five takeaways from the midpoint of UCLA spring football practice

Last year, he signed as a free agent with the Bears, and explained why he continues to play.

“Part of it is showing people that it can be done,” Lewis said of his longevity. “Being able to have the singular focus to go out there and be your personal best every single day.

“For me, that is part of my purpose. I was born to do this. I’m not going to disrespect the gift of still being able to do it and not be here.”

Lewis is part of a talented Bears tight end group that also includes Notre Dame product Cole Kmet, who had 73 catches and six touchdowns last season, and Gerald Everett, who had 51 catches for the Chargers last season and began his career with the Rams.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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