First, his selection as Freshman All-SEC. “It was a goal at the beginning of the year,” Lewis said. So mark that one as done, with last week’s announcement that conference coaches had tabbed Mississippi State’s redshirt linebacker to the all-rookie club.
“I wasn’t too sure I was going to accomplish that goal. But after hearing the good news I really got a spark from that.”
The Bulldog defense received plenty of spark from Lewis. For his first year as a varsity linebacker, and as an every-game starter, he tallied 72.0 tackles. Not only was this second-most on Mississippi State’s squad; it was the highest regular-season total of any SEC freshman, any defensive position.
This made selection as All-Freshman just about automatic. Though, Lewis did have a few lingering doubts until word came via twitter.
“My teammates were actually telling me about it as soon as I got out of workouts, that I had made the team. But I had to go check and make sure for myself.”
Not just for himself, either. Lewis wasn’t the only Bulldog rookie and defender on the Coaches’ freshman team. Tackle Jeffery Simmons made the squad, too; and in his case as a true freshman.
“He was talking about it at the beginning of the year,” said Lewis. “I think it was both of our goals to make that Freshman All-SEC team. We really just play hard throughout the season and tried to contribute as much as possible. And everything worked itself out.”
Things certainly are working out for the Bulldog defense. What with a pair of first-year players tabbed all-league already, and depending on lineup over half the starting team along with just about all the rotation personnel, this is a unit with lots of room and time to grow.
Cynics can snipe that such growth is needed. Dog defenders won’t deny they could have, should have been a better bunch in 2016. The point is, there is potential for progress on display already all around the lineup. Evidence, too, none better than a shutout second-half to crush Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg.
A half that began with Lewis making the key play. State’s 27-20 halftime lead was threatened as the Rebels reached the 17-yard line with fourth-and-one and growing momentum. A sweep-left by back Akeem Judd ought have been a routine chain-mover…
…except that the rush got rushed. Judd didn’t even get to any edge because Lewis met him behind the line of scrimmage, much less short of the line-to-make.
“You never know when you’ve got to make that play,” said Lewis. “Plays that decide the game.” It was the biggest of Lewis’ six tackles, this one for loss along with a half-sack.
Such plays will send Lewis into his sophomore season with his own momentum. “I think I’ve got lots of confidence.” But then his rookie campaign isn’t finished either. The St. Petersburg Bowl beckons.
Which just happens to check-off another ambition. Lewis gets to play in his first bowl game as a Bulldog, and help extend the program’s record streak of seven post-seasons. The frosh says part of the fun is sending off his elders with one more bowl game.
Bigger to him and for the program’s future is another bowl camp. Lewis was able to leave the scout squad last December and participate in real practices, and take that into spring competition. Where, obviously, he won his starting job for fall.
There’s a little irony here, that a Freshman All-SEC and rising star will still practice about as much as the 2016 backups or redshirts. Yet he will enjoy seeing Dogs of his age or younger trying to become the next, well, the next Leo Lewis for 2017.
“You know, seeing these young guys that get to come in and make an immediate impact and play right away next year. That gives me plenty of confidence to see how that transpires and see everything work itself out like that.”
Just as Lewis’ own first varsity season has worked out according to plans, mostly. The Bulldog cut it as close as possible but they made the cut for bowl-season football. And that’s a plan which never changes at Mississippi State.
“Don’t nobody want to be at home during bowl season, watching football when you could be playing football.”