Hoosiers Finding Their Way Thanks to Lewis

Bloomington, Ind. – So who do Hoosier football fans have to thank for the state of the program? Who's most responsible for the team's 3-0 start, the nationally-ranked offense and the very realistic possibility that the team might be just months away from...

Bloomington, Ind. – So who do Hoosier football fans have to thank for the state of the program?

Who's most responsible for the team's 3-0 start, the nationally-ranked offense and the very realistic possibility that the team might be just months away from ridding itself of the albatross it's been carting around for the last 13 bowl-less seasons?

The easy answer might be Kellen Lewis, the team's dynamic quarterback who's befuddled both friend and foe with his desire to beat teams with his arm and his ability to do it when necessary with his feet. After all, he's earned three Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards in his 12 weeks as a starting Big Ten quarterback, most recently following his 336-yard, five-touchdown effort in IU's 41-24 win over Akron.

But the answer might not be Lewis, or Bill Lynch or even former IU Coach Terry Hoeppner. Instead, fans might want to send a thank you note to former Hoosier signal callers Mike Vlahogeorge and Grant Gregory, the duo that departed at the close of the 2005 season. Their spring exits left Hoeppner with only two quarterbacks on scholarship, and sent his staff pillaging through the remnants of the recruiting scrap heap.

"Coach Hep felt it was really important that we get another scholarship quarterback in the program," Lynch said. "We started getting the old tapes out and finding out who was still available."

What they found was Lewis, a player who'd been a good enough player at Jacksonville's Mandarin H.S. to earn a scholarship offer from Ron Zook at nearby Florida. But Zook didn't see a player to whom he wanted to turn his offense over. Instead, his Gator staff saw an "athlete," a term generally reserved for a recruit who will get a look at just about every skill position other than quarterback.

Lewis had heard that before, and wasn't having it.

"By the time I reached my senior year (of high school), I felt I could play at the next level at this position," Lewis said.

So he passed on the Gators' offer. With his only offers to play quarterback coming from Eastern Michigan, Rhode Island and Charleston Southern, Lewis instead was prepping to pack his bags for Hargrave Military Academy, a prep school where he hoped he could prove he was good enough to orchestrate an offense at a major conference level.

But two weeks before he was set to depart, Indiana came calling. The Hoosiers had a dire need at the position, Lewis had a unwavering desire to play it, and the Hoosiers' luck was about to change.

"I'd like to give you a great answer that we saw this or that, but that's how it came about," Lynch said.

Despite the opportunity to play in the Big Ten, it still wasn't a no brainer. After then-IU assistant coach and Florida recruiter Troy Douglas informed Lewis of the opportunity, Lewis talked things over with his father.

"I called my dad and talked to him about it, and I told him it sounded too crazy or too risky," Lewis said. "And he said, ‘do you want to play quarterback?' Yeah. ‘Well, it sounds like you'll get a chance here.'"

But Lewis wasn't exactly sure where "here" was. He knew about the Big Ten, but admits he wasn't very familiar with his collegiate destination.

"At the time I didn't know where the state of Indiana was," Lewis said. "I thought it was a little closer to Kansas…I didn't know where Bloomington was. The only city here I knew of was Indianapolis.

"It was one of those things that I signed (the letter of intent), and when everyone found out about it, everyone kind of shook their head and said, ‘do you even know where that is at?' Then I got on a plane, and I was there."

Lewis was chasing his dream, and he found it in Bloomington. After a redshirt season where he dazzled on-lookers while running the Hoosiers' scout team, he took over as the team's starter at the beginning of the 2006 Big Ten season. Since that time he's taken command of the team, helped turnaround the team's fortunes, and made college football fans take notice of the IU program.

"(It was) kind of like going in their blind, and it's either a hit or a miss, and luckily I hit," Lewis said. "I'm happy to be where I'm at today."

Lynch is happy as well, even though it was luck as much as anything that enabled IU to lure Lewis to town two years ago.

"He wasn't here long before we could tell he could play," Lynch said. "I'll give ourselves that much credit."

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