Freshman Linebacker Making Major Impact with Bulldog Defense

He said it himself. So who is going to argue with Leo Lewis’ opinion? “You have to be a little off to play defense. And I’m definitely a little off!”

Well, if Lewis is ‘off’ in some gridiron sense…maybe the whole Bulldog defensive roster should give it a try too? Because four games into the schedule, few Mississippi State stoppers have been as ‘on’ their game as this redshirt freshman.

Lewis completed September having started every chance, and tied for second in tackles. His 25 stops match that of fellow starting linebacker J.T. Gray, with both behind middle-man Richie Brown’s 28. Yes, weak-side ‘backers like Lewis are supposed to get in on a lot of action.

But this new State starter has made just about the most of his opportunities. Just about, that is.

“I’m still developing and trying to better my game,” Lewis said.

Now after opening his varsity career with a team- and game-best nine tackles, Lewis might’ve been tempted to see himself as a proven producer. He didn’t, and still doesn’t. A couple of conference contests kept the kid clear on this.

“The SEC is really fast. So I’m still working on tackling and taking angles and really the small things I’m trying to develop at,” Lewis said. He might ought add endurance to that list. Not that Lewis lacks conditioning by any means.

It’s just that hitting SEC opponents saps a little more than a linebacker notices, until reads and reactions slow down just a tiny bit. He learned this at Tiger Stadium the harder way.

“It’s all about playing smarter. When you’re tired you tend to do things you don’t normally do, and lose concentration. That was a big eye-opener for me and making my one-on-ones.”

Ahhh, but when Lewis is focused there isn’t a fiercer one-on-one tackler wearing Maroon and White. More experienced sure, and maybe more efficient. But when Leo Lewis hits, the other guy knows he’s been hit.

“I love the physicality and the contact. I’m looking for contact every play.” Which is why Lewis calls himself a ‘little off’ in mortal terms. But boy, is it a good ‘off’ for the Bulldog defense.

“I just like to be physical at the point of contact,” Lewis repeated. Though, he said, with each week’s experience he finds ways of getting off initial contact from blockers and getting after the football. But shy away from sticking someone?

That just isn’t Lewis’ style. It certainly isn’t standard style for most first-year players, which makes Lewis someone special to watch as he continues to grow on the gridiron.

“I kind of get psyched-out and tend to forget I’m a freshman. There’s a lot of room to implement different things in my game.”

Then again some would say after a month of senior college play he isn’t a freshman any more, any way. They might also say that four games into the campaign, the whole Bulldog defense should have figured out what is working, what is not, and put a more consistent squad on the field.

Lewis won’t argue that point. He’s as frustrated by the good half/bad half from his unit, for that matter the entire team, as everyone else. “We’ve done a bad job giving teams hope and letting them stick around. We have to come out and play fast start to finish.”

“I think we’ve got players in the right spot. We’ve got explosive players who can make plays, on both sides of the ball. We just have to put it together.”

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