Waaaaaait a moment.
Find the statistics, turn to the tackles chart. Look whose name tops the list. Linebacker Leo Lewis with four solo tackles, two of them for losses, and five more assisted stops. That’s nine total tackles in his very first college ball game.
And this guy thinks his work can improve? Yes, Lewis does, even if he adds that his Mississippi State debut exceeded personal expectations.
“It really did. I was nervous going out there, getting my first start in front to 60,000 people. It could have been better, definitely could have been a lot better. But it was more than I expected.”
Forecasts for this redshirted freshman were pretty strong already. Given not just a debut but the starting job at weak-side linebacker in Mississippi State’s 2016 opener, Lewis delivered. And in style.
“It was crazy feeling. Making those open-field tackles I really surprised myself, how quick I played and getting to the ball.”
When Lewis got to the ball, the carrier was going down, hard. That more than anything caught game-one attention. On an otherwise-lost day for Dog, the new linebacker was a bright point. He certainly was ready for prime time, Lewis said. “The first play, I think I was quite adjusted.”
“The game speed is definitely different. Definitely different. But as far as getting mentally prepared I believe that has something to do with moving fast, knowing what to expect back there.”
What Mississippi State did not expect was to walk off Scott Field with a loss. This alone would have put every Dog back to basics. Lewis has had a few days to evaluate, and said on the whole the Dog defense didn’t perform at the same speed as in preseason. Specific practice items were not carried into a real game. And execution was not clean, not often enough.
So… “Practice has been really intense,” Lewis said. “Coach Mullen has been really intense this week. Which we like as a defense. We’ve got some hard-hitting players so this week has been really intense.”
Few who seem to hit harder, or at least more dramatically, than young Mr. Lewis. At Brookhaven High he built a real reputation for violent contact that made him one of the South’s most-sought prospects. In retrospect he might have been a useful addition to linebacker depth in 2015.
But redshirting was long-run best for Lewis himself. He also used a year of practice and scout team to adjust his approach. In high school, he said, he could just use sheer speed and strength and go make plays any where, any time.
College football is another matter. Reckless abandon is not the way to play.
“Most definitely (you’ve) got to control yourself. Especially in big-time games because you don’t want to miss tackles. I’ve really been trying my best to wrap up and make open field tackles, and drive the ball carrier back at the point of contact.”
Opening day showed Lewis has a good handle on all the above. Still, “There’s always room for improvement. I definitely need to improve in pass coverage. And as a defense we need to run to the ball.”
The Bulldog defense certainly must speed everything up this weekend. Lewis believes as a whole State just did not take South Alabama seriously enough, and it cost dearly. Combine a bad loss with this week’s conference opener, and yes things should become ultra-serious.
“South Carolina, back in SEC play,” Lewis said. “They’ve got some good guys, a good running back, a good receiver, a good offensive line. And they’ve definitely got a dual-threat quarterback. So we’re coming prepared this week.”
Lewis himself is completely preparing for his second ‘opening act’. Saturday evening he gets to hit conference competition and judge himself. Is he eager for opportunity?
Need we ask?
“Very eager. Really ready to max-out my potential and become better as a player. Like said, maximize my potential.”