“That’s the Lewis guy I was talking about,” one of the boys said, turning to the other. “Is he here? I want to talk with him.”
And everyone, even kids too young for a PG-13 movie, know it.
“I still feel like I have a long way to go, but I’m getting better every day,” Lewis said. “And when kids remember my name like that and everything, it’s just a blessing.”
For two seasons, Lewis’ name hid beneath the shadow of NFL-bound Allen Robinson, who quickly rose from an unknown to one of the Nittany Lions’ greatest wideouts. Lewis spoke quickly on Saturday without breaking eye contact. He was confident, but he also seemed realistic. He didn’t know if he’d reach Robinson’s production -- a bar raised so high it’s hard not to perform the limbo the season after -- and he didn’t seem eager at guessing how the 2014 season might end up.
“All I know,” he said, “is I’m blessed to be put in this situation, and I wouldn’t ask for it any other way. I’m going to go out there and play to the best of my ability and give this team all I've got to get a win.”
While chatter grew during every week of the 2013 season about Robinson’s next school record -- he set the school marks for both catches (97) and receiving yards (1,432) -- Lewis either stood on the sideline or played the role of distraction while on the field. Robinson accounted for more than 46 percent of the Nittany Lions’ passing yards last season, while Lewis finished with 18 catches for 234 yards.
But it’s obviously not Lewis’ production that has excited fans and increased the number of autograph seekers. It’s his potential and athleticism. Lewis was the headliner of the 2012 recruiting class, a solid four-star prospect, and he wowed onlookers with an over-the-shoulder 59-yard TD grab against Wisconsin.
If Lewis wasn’t forced to shift from high school quarterback to college receiver, he most certainly would’ve contributed as a freshman. But he has spent these past two seasons not as a bitter rival to Robinson and Brandon Felder, but as a patient student who has tried to perfect his route-running. And the time for patience has passed.
“I’m smarter, more ready and I’m going to be more physical,” he said. “Just as long as I’m getting better, that’s all that matters.”
But, even with his improvement, does he really think this passing attack can somehow get better without a player like Robinson? Can Penn State really be better without its MVP?
“I think we can,” he said, adding that his fellow receivers and tight ends now have a full offseason to work with Christian Hackenberg.
Lewis said his teammates have wasted no time in improving their chemistry with the Big Ten’s reigning freshman of the year. The receivers and defensive backs have already taken to meeting in Holuba Hall and elsewhere, practicing routes and developing better timing with their quarterback.
And Lewis is looking forward to seeing how his patience -- and his teammates’ work -- pays off.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I just can’t wait.”
- Here are the details of Jerry Kill's restructured contract at Minnesota. Kill is excited to get running back Berkley Edwards on the field this spring.
- Former Michigan State LB Max Bullough misses a chance to clear the air about his suspension, Graham Couch writes.
- Northwestern is the wrong place for the union fight, David Haugh writes.
- Former Penn State WR Allen Robinson makes his case for first-round selection at the combine. James Franklin is extending Penn State's recruiting reach.
- How the Ohio State contingent is performing at the combine. Former Buckeyes CB Bradley Roby chillin' with Snoop Dogg -- and cash.
- Former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan solidifies his draft position at the combine. Willie Henry could spark the Wolverines' defensive line in 2014.
- Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema keeps making friends.
- Former NFL wide receiver Keenan McCardell embraces the challenge of college coaching at Maryland. New Terps line coach Greg Studwara brings personality to the staff.
- A Q&A with new Purdue secondary coach Taver Johnson.
Spring football is right around the corner and with it comes new faces, fresh starts and, of course, plenty of questions surrounding some of the nation's top programs.
From who will take over for Johnny Football at Texas A&M to whether Art Briles and Co. can continue their winning ways at Baylor, there's a lot of intrigue heading into the 2014 campaign.
While many of these questions will not be fully answered until the fall, here are five of the biggest ones across the college football landscape as we head into the spring.
1. Who takes over for Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans at Texas A&M?
There may be no bigger shoes in the country to fill in 2014 than the ones Johnny Football will leave behind in College Station. The 2012 Heisman winner was not only a great player, but his on- and off-field antics made him one of the faces of college football over the last couple of years.
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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
7:00 PM ET Eastern Illinois Minnesota 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State
8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 12:00 PM ET Indiana State Indiana 12:00 PM ET Northern Iowa Iowa 12:00 PM ET Appalachian State Michigan 12:00 PM ET 5 Ohio State Navy 12:00 PM ET Western Michigan Purdue 12:05 PM ET Youngstown State Illinois 3:30 PM ET James Madison Maryland 3:30 PM ET Florida Atlantic 22 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU