Freshman Tackle Lewis Getting His Chance

Coach Ron Zook brought in a great recruiting class this last spring, and 14 of them have now made their way onto the field in their rookie campaigns. He wants to put his best players on the field, even if they play a difficult position like offensive line. The latest freshman to play is Corey Lewis, a talented left tackle prospect.

The 6'-6", 300 pound athlete from East Sroudsburg South High School in Pennsylvania hoped to play as a freshman, but it took awhile to get him ready.

"I was hoping to get in," Lewis explains. "I trust in Coach (Eric) Wolford and his decision-making, and the coaching staff. I trusted they always knew what was best for me, and I just followed their lead."

But waiting until the seventh game had to be cause for some nervousness.

"I was a little bit jittery at first. I got flagged when I was behind the line a little bit, but I got all that out. I was still a little bit jittery but excited they gave me the opportunity. It's good, it's exciting. I've been waiting for my chance. Coach Wolford said it was my time to get my opportunity."

With Ryan Palmer still sidelined with a broken foot, Corey has actually been elevated to first sub for both tackle spots.

"Yeah, just in case. We need depth in the offensive line because anything can happen. So I've been getting ready at either spot. Without depth, it's hard to be successful. So that's why I'm doing that."

Just like they did with fellow freshman lineman Jeff Allen, opponents will be licking their chops to abuse a rookie. Corey thinks he's prepared for it.

"I know that's still possible. I'm not worried about that because Coach Wolford got me ready. I'm happy what he's doing with me, I trust in what he's doing with me, and I believe I'll be ready."

From the sound of it, Lewis has the motivation to excel at the college level. His thoughts on his best qualities reflect someone with great potential.

"I'd like to say I'm well balanced. I'd like to get better at both run blocking and pass blocking. I have a long way to go, but if I had to say anything I'm athletic. I don't let very many people beat me around the edge. I've got to keep on working on that also."

In a spread offense, a tackle has to be mobile. Besides negating speed rushers off the edge, they must also get downfield to block. It appears Corey is ideally suited for the role.

"You've got to be able to go out on screens, be out there on options, be able to cut people off, you've got to protect the quarterback's backside off the edge. You have to move and do alot of quick-footed steps. Basketball was my first love, and I was doing that for a long time. I think that helped me do what I am and be as athletic as I am. I played basketball year around before, so I think that is a big help."

Of course, he's still a rookie. College offensive linemen often take four or five years to develop fully. Lewis knows he has a lot of work left to reach his career goals.

"I want to get stronger, become a better pass blocker, a dominant pass blocker. I also want to become a dominant run blocker. I think that all comes with time and trusting in Coach Wolf (Wolford), getting better in my technique.

"Footwork is key at this level. Footwork is the key thing I want to work on. It takes time, and I'm waiting my time. I've just got to keep listening, take a few licks and just keep doing what I do."

Most people know the story of how the Illini recruited Corey without the benefit of an official visit. His free time for trips was limited by basketball. But he had no doubt he made the right choice at the time, and he believes that even more now.

"I didn't need one. Coach Zook, Coach Wolf, and Coach Pry convinced me. I just knew I could trust them. That's how I based my decision. Every college is gonna have a college atmosphere. I wanted to go somewhere I could trust the coaching staff and fit in. Every other school had good coaching staffs, but I felt this one was the best for me. Coach Wolf sealed the deal.

"Jeff Allen helped me coming in, and that was a big help. He told me what was going on, how Coach Wolf was with them, so I knew what I was gonna get by being here."

Corey Lewis is optimistic this Illini team is ready to roll.

"I think we're ready to put a streak together. Coach Zook is a great coach. All the coaches are good coaches. They really get us motivated and ready to go. I also believe we had some games we had an opportunity to win. Tough breaks, you know. I think we're ready to strap it up and put on a good run."

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