Spoken just like a senior, hey? Which Lewis of course is, giving him an old Dog’s perspective…and priorities. But don’t get any notion Mississippi State’s receiving ace is concerned for his senior season safety. Or that he’s been overly cautious in practices.
Rather this exemplifies the sort of step-at-a-time approach veterans understand. Pre-spring weight work? Check. A solid spring training month, check. Meeting every summer strength and conditioning assignment, as well as spending long afternoons running routes and catching balls? Check and check again. And now, check off his final preseason as a Bulldog.
Which means, exactly…? “You’ve got to turn that switch and know it’s game week,” Lewis said. “And really just focus, it’s all about your focus. And when you do what you do, you’ve got to do it to the best of your ability.”
Bulldog fans, as well as Southeastern Conference foes, have seen what ability Lewis brings to the game plan. 2013 was the big breakout, and we do mean big. In his first year as a full-time starter Lewis caught 64 passes, tying for the second-most receptions ever by a Dog route-runner. His 923 yards were fourth-best in program history, and 220 of those came in the Liberty Bowl to set Mississippi State’s absolute game record.
A great year by any MSU measure, absolutely. “I think I shocked a lot of people,” Lewis agreed. “But to me, I felt like I haven’t done anything yet.”
Pay very close attention indeed. A fellow writes his name repeatedly in the record book and counts it as, if not nothing then insufficient to satisfy? Now that sends a signal about what Lewis expects of himself…and in turn what Bulldogs can now expect of him as an upperclassman.
“I’m glad I caught some eyes last year! But I think the best is yet to come.”
Not just for Lewis, either. His big finish was just part of how the Bulldog offense as a whole concluded 2013, and ever since the buzz has only built of what State could and should do with the football this fall. There is so much proven, and so much extra potential, to the 2014 offense in all aspects, Lewis said.
“Not only the experience, we’ve been putting in the work this summer. We’ve been constant, we haven’t taken any days off and we’ve just been grinding as a team, trying to get better.” Which is something every team this time of the calendar will say, yet when a senior Dog like Lewis talks it he means it. Such as when he tears his own practice video to shreds, seeking flaws to fix. He adds that everyone is taking the same approach this preseason.
“You know what you did wrong, so work on your weakness and if you do I’m pretty sure you’ll be alright.”
It wasn’t only Lewis’ receiving which brought attention as a junior. He helped write even more MSU history with a most unique feat, a touchdown trifecta by catching, running, and even throwing for scores in the same game. Twice, against both Troy and Kentucky. The former high school quarterback retains the old skills all these college years later, and gadget plays are right up Lewis’ alley.
“Because I’ve been playing football for a while so that’s nothing new to me.” Now it isn’t new to upcoming opponents either so maybe these Dogs need to come up with a few new tricks for 2014? Lewis is all for it.
“We’ve got some, but I’m pretty sure we’re not going to put it out until about mid-season when games get real! But we have some.”
Alright then, if we must wait a month or so before State goes into the gadget bag, then wait we must. But for his part Lewis won’t have to wait much longer before getting back to more routine Bulldog business. Thursday’s brush-up practice concludes field preparations for the opener, then it is about 48 more hours before taking to Scott Field for the 6:39 Saturday kickoff.
Since this is an in-state matchup the normal kickoff electricity ought be all the greater. Yet for Lewis there’s even just a little more extra zest about playing Southern Mississippi. He has old Tylertown teammates on the opposing roster, and for that matter lots of time spent in the hostile side’s home town.
“My brother is still in Hattiesburg and I’m from south Mississippi so I’ll be in Hattiesburg all the time. I know it’s a big game and they’ve been talking a lot of trash! But we’re going to go out there and do what we do and execute and send those boys back down south.” Just picking guys…mostly. Lewis in fact was offered by USM but this came after Mississippi State got first place in that scholarship line.
“They started trying to talk to me when I got my first offer from here my junior year, when we lost the state championship. When they tried to get in the buzz, the school up north tried to get in it. But at the end of the day I wanted to play in the SEC because that’s always been a dream.” Now, with two Egg Bowl wins already on his varsity resume, there’s a chance to notch a W against another home-state squad.
“It’s time to prove to the state of Mississippi that we are the best.”
Back when Lewis signed-on with Coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State that was very much unproven. Five falls later Lewis and other 2010 redshirts intend to end in style. And it begins not a weekend too soon for the seniors.
“We’re very excited. 2010 our class came in together, all them boys. We’re just happy, it’s been a long summer and we’ve been waiting for this Saturday. We’re happy it’s coming at the right time. We’ve got a goal. We’ve got to get there.”
Is 2014 the right time for the Bulldogs to do more than ranks first in the home state? To Lewis and club the response is, why not now and why not us? It’s a fine mindset to take into a season. But so is a focused view, Lewis will remind. As they say in racing, to finish first means first finishing.
“And just go out there and perform. Have a great week at practice and take it from there. But the main key is staying healthy.”