Lewis relieved after emotional return

After a grueling and prolonged offseason for the Arizona State players and coaches, last Thursday's season opener against Sacramento State couldn't have come any sooner. But for Sun Devil running back Deantre Lewis, it meant just a bit more.

His long, arduous road to recovery from an accidental shooting incident following the 2010 season has been well documented.

Yet, after redshirting in 2011 while still recovering from the lingering nerve and muscle effects of the shooting and being moved to defensive back in 2012 after falling out of the depth chart at running back, last Thursday's contest served as yet another stepping stone in Deantre Lewis' triumphant comeback and his return to the Arizona State offensive backfield.

As a freshman in 2010, Lewis delighted Sun Devil fans with his electric playmaking ability. He appeared in 11 of the team's games, including two starts, and rushed for 539 yards. His 987 all-purpose yards that year were second on the team and he finished the year averaging just less than six yards per rushing attempt and more than 16 yards per reception.

Arizona State fans couldn't help but dream of the heights the Sun Devils could reach with Lewis leading the charge in 2011 and beyond.

But everything changed on that February morning when Lewis became the victim of a random shooting incident while visiting family members in his hometown of Riverside, CA. Everything except his desire to get back out on the football field for ASU once again, that is.

The rehabilitation process for Lewis hasn't been easy. After almost walking away from the game of football, he decided to redshirt in 2011 while he trained to regain his mobility and worked his way back into playing shape.

Lewis began the 2012 season at running back but clearly wasn't the player Sun Devil fans remembered seeing in 2010. He rushed for just 39 yards on 11 carries in a back-up role before then-first year Head Coach Todd Graham suggested a position change to defense while newcomers Marion Grice and D.J. Foster served as the team's primary back-up running backs.

Lewis accepted his role as a defensive back and even played in nine games while recording four tackles, but he wasn't satisfied.

So he committed himself to the team's offseason workout regiment with Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold in an effort to once again become the playmaker he knew he was still capable of being. By summer's end, Lewis was recognized as member of the Dirty Dozen for his hard work and diligence in the weight room and was rewarded with another chance to play at his natural running back position again.

All of Lewis' efforts throughout the entire offseason came full circle last Thursday when he once again lined up in the Arizona State offensive backfield during the second half against Sacramento State. In limited action, he rushed for 53 yards - the second most on the team behind Grice's game-high 59 yards - on just eight carries and hauled in two receptions for 52 yards in his return.

"It felt good," said Lewis on Sunday after practice. "It was very emotional at first, you know, just being back out there knowing that I'm going to be able to play and feel like myself. So, it was very emotional but it felt good."

On an evening when the Sun Devil offense was firing on all cylinders behind the sensational play of junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, it was Lewis who had Sun Devil fans talking the most.

Late in third quarter, Lewis took a shuffle pass from sophomore quarterback Michael Eubank around the left side of the offensive line for a 57 yard gain, which not only was the longest play from scrimmage for the Sun Devils all evening, but also showed off some of the speed that fans have wished to see from the 5'11", 190-pound running back since his freshman year.

"I don't know," said Lewis when asked what was going through his mind when he bounced off a would-be tackler before spinning upfield for the long run. "I didn't expect to stay up and keep my balance on that play because I was really leaning forward but somehow I did and got up. I was a little winded on that play but it felt good getting out in the open field like that."

Both Grice and Lewis surpassed 100 total yards in the season opening win. And while the workman-like effort has become of staple of Grice's play since last season, it was the breakout performance of Lewis that stood out the most, even if he wasn't surprised by the results.

"No because we put in the hard work during the fall camp," he commented. "The coaches told me, 'If you work hard, you're going to play. We can't keep you off the field if you work hard.' So that's what I did in fall camp and when I went out there I just wanted to make sure that I know for myself that I was back and not to give up."

With one game back at running back now under his belt, Lewis and his Arizona State teammates have officially begun their preparation for this Saturday's nationally televised showdown with #20 Wisconsin at Sun Devil Stadium, an opponent Lewis knows all too well.

It was during the two teams' last meeting in September of 2010 in Madison, WI that Lewis had his coming out party in ASU maroon and gold. He rushed 122 yards on just nine carries - which started a three game stretched where he rushed for over 100 yards, including a career-high 127 yard performance the following week against Oregon - but ultimately the Sun Devils fell short in attempt to upset the 11th ranked Badgers, 20-19.

When asked what he remembers about that previous matchup, only one thing still stands out to Lewis.

"That we lost" he said. "My performance didn't matter if it didn't come out as a win."

Lewis and the Sun Devils know they have an opportunity on Saturday to avenge their loss from three years ago and show the nation they're ready to contend for a division and conference championship as they begin a four game gauntlet against some of the nation's top teams.

The opponent is a familiar one for ASU; Lewis just hoping the outcome will be different.

"They're very disciplined so they're not going to fall for a lot of stuff that we'll throw at them," he said. "So basically, our thing is being mentally ready just to come off the ball and attack. They're not going to be open to us doing all the reverses and stuff and we know they're going to be disciplined. It's just going to come down to us being mentally ready and eliminating the mistakes. If we do our job, we should be fine.

"There's nothing better than revenge."

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