Lewis eager for a comeback

It's been a long road to recovery for Deantre Lewis after a once seemingly limitless career was nearly derailed by a random shooting incident. Now, more than two years later and once again back in his natural position in the ASU backfield, Lewis looks to regain his freshman form and give the Sun Devils one of the Pac-12's most dynamic running back trios in 2013.

Lewis eager for a comeback It didn't take Sun Devils fans long to realize the potential Deantre Lewis possessed when he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2010. As the primary back-up to Cameron Marshall, he rushed for 539 yards and four touchdowns, including a career-high 127 yards against Oregon and 122 yards against Wisconsin in Madison. Lewis showed off his versatility with 23 receptions for 370 yards – 16.1 yards per catch – and an additional two touchdowns, instantly making him one of the most dynamic playmakers in the conference.

Unfortunately, Lewis became the victim of a random drive-by shooting following his breakout freshman season when he was struck in the left buttocks while visiting his hometown of Riverside, CA for the birth of his sister's first baby in February of 2011.

The shooting, which forced the budding young star to redshirt the following year, caused nerve damage in Lewis' left leg, leaving him immobilized and contemplating his future.

"Right after the shooting I was very close to walking away," he recalled recently after practice. "It was just something that stuck in my head when I was laying up in the hospital, like, maybe this isn't for me. Because after I found out that I couldn't walk, really, I was thinking to myself that I was done and that the process would be really hard and I wouldn't be the same athlete again.

"I didn't want to go through the embarrassment of trying to come back from that, so at times it just got rough. But Coach Erickson and the staff, and my old teammates like George Bell and Mike Willie, they all talked to me, saying things like, "You can make it to the next level. You're that talented." And that got stuck in mind and I knew it was something I wanted to do again."

But it's been a slow process for Lewis. After rejoining the team after the 2011 season, the quick bursts of speed which helped him stand out as a freshman were noticeably absent and he struggled to regain his previous form. On top of that, the depth chart at running back was suddenly loaded with talent, including Marshall and newcomers Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, which left Lewis on the outside looking in.

In order to get back on the field for the Sun Devils in 2012, Lewis agreed to play defense where he lined up in nickel packages as an extra cornerback after it was clear he wouldn't see the playing time he desired on offense. Despite his frustration, Lewis approached his new position and subsequent number change (Lewis wore number 5 in 2011), both of which were the first in his playing career, as a blessing and continued to focus on taking the necessary steps to eventually make it back to the Sun Devil offensive backfield.

"It was actually fun, just to feel free and let go, and it actually got my mind off a couple of things," he said of his experience playing defense. "But then I realized defense wasn't for me and I missed running back. I just missed being able to do things with the ball in my hands."

In his first full season following the injury, Lewis had just 11 carries for 39 yards, a significant drop-off from 2010, while also recording four tackles (two solo) in nine total games. As the season ended, Lewis once again went back home to reflect on what his next move would be. And that's when it happened.

"It was actually me and Coach Graham," said Lewis on the decision for him to return to the offense once again. "I was back home in California going through some old pictures and I saw the number 25 and I was about to text him but then I got a text from him saying, "How about number 25 again?" and I was excited from the point, just going back to old memories.

"I missed it. It's a magical number."

After his talk with Graham, Lewis committed himself to making his transition back to offense stick. He immediately began working with Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell on his new role and immersed himself in the new Sun Devil playbook.

"Mentally, I really wanted to come back and be myself again," he commented. "I wanted to be better than I was in 2010 because in 2010, I'm not going to lie, I was really lazy. I didn't watch film my freshman year, I didn't really lift to my potential, so 2010 was just all talent. This year, it's talent, being physical, and being mentally tough."

"I was actually in the playbook a lot, which was something I never really had to do before, but in order to do the extra things they ask us, I really had to learn it just so I could feel comfortable out here." Fueled by his desire to once again be a go-to weapon in the high-octane Sun Devil offense, Lewis spent a majority of the offseason working out with Arizona State Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold in an effort to overcome some of his lingering leg issues while bulking up to battle between the tackles. Today he was recognized as a member of the ‘Dirty Dozen' for his outstanding work in the summer program.

"The workouts with Gris have really helped because he pushes me," said Lewis. "He told me, ‘You can do something with this offense,' I just needed to overcome our workouts and stuff. One of the things has been leg stamina because my left leg still gets fatigued really fast. All offseason we worked on it, me pushing through it.

"There were a couple times during the offseason where it got bad and I had to come out but the next day I would come back strong. It's something I'm going to be working on over time, but it's getting a lot better, a lot stronger and my speed is back.

And as for that special speed which helped Lewis record three 100+ yard rushing and two 100+ receiving games as a freshman?

"I'm faster than 2010," he said with a smile. "I'm faster than 2010."

Lewis now joins Grice and Foster in the backfield, giving Arizona State one of the fastest and most dynamic running backs trios in the Pac-12 heading into the 2013 season. Not only have all three proven to be explosive ball carriers with big play potential, but they've also demonstrated the ability to be effective downfield receivers, providing junior quarterback Taylor Kelly with additional ammunition to lead the Sun Devil offensive attack.

"We've been coming out here competing," said Lewis. "All the running backs, we set the tone in the meeting room. We challenge each other, push each other every time, and try to help each other with some of the mistakes we've been making. It's all about helping each other and coming together as a team.

"When it comes to game time situations, it's going to be hard to stop us because we can do everything. Marion can even be split out. Obviously, since he's the biggest back out of us, he's going to be in the backfield the most and me and D.J. are going to be running routes around him. There might be times when we're all three going to be on the field at the same time when we want to confuse teams with that."

Through the first week of Arizona State's fall practices, Lewis has shown the confidence of a player who knows he's getting closer to his old self, running with newfound determination and quicker bursts of speed.

And perhaps more importantly, he's having fun once again. For a young man who's had to overcome the type of adversity he's faced since that day in February 2011, Lewis is just relieved to once again be comfortable, productive, and back at running back for the Sun Devils.

"It means everything to me. It's my God-given talent and I've played it ever since I was seven years old," he said of being back at his original position. "I'm just glad they gave me the opportunity to play it again. I trained really hard this offseason just so I could have this moment. We all pushed each other this offseason. It was the hardest offseason ever, but we came through it.

"One of my goals is to make it through camp because last year I didn't. I had the shoulder injury and then a leg injury, so this year I'm going to make it through camp. And then I just want to be better than I was in the previous practice. I want to get better each practice. And my number one goal is to make plays out here again."

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