Dion For Heisman?

All this "Dion for Heisman'' talk is a bit premature, if one asks Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and even the tailback himself.

However, Pittsburgh freshman Dion Lewis -- while excited to be mentioned among the nation's best -- would rather not be right now.

In fact, Lewis noted that he really doesn't read newspaper stories on him, presumably message-board posts as well, nor does he buy into the hype. His Panthers teammates are another story, however.

"I just try to maintain my focus, concentrate on the upcoming game and just improve every week,'' Lewis said. "It got mentioned in the locker room, mostly just kidding around, but I just tried to act like I didn't hear it.

"I guess it's nice, but I can't get too caught up in that. I'm just worried about playing football and getting ready for the games each week. I can't worry about the Heisman talk right now.''

Lewis, the Big East offensive player of the week for his 31-carry, 180-yard, two-touchdown performance at Rutgers, leads the nation with 918 rushing yards on 162 carries (5.7 average). He has nine rushing touchdowns, to go with 12 catches and another score, and he leads the Big East (third nationally) with 131.1 yards rushing per game.

So, while the Heisman talk certainly is somewhat justifiable, there are points to be made. Lewis, despite his stature -- listed at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds -- is a tough inside runner and has carried the ball as much as anyone. And despite 31 carries at Rutgers, he appeared to get stronger as the game wore on.

"I felt pretty good after the game, not too tired, and my legs felt pretty good,'' Lewis said. "If they wanted to give me the ball even more, I think I would be able to handle it. At the end of the game against Rutgers, you could see it in their eyes that they didn't want to play anymore.

"We were wearing them down. (And) that's really a tribute to our conditioning coaches. They've done such a great job on us that we're just as strong in the fourth quarter, and that really showed against Rutgers. That's why we were able to pound the ball in the fourth quarter against them.''

Wannstedt isn't shy about piling on carries for any back, especially if the Panthers are successful running on an opponent, and Lewis fits that mold. But Heisman talk, well ... not right now.

"I think 25 is a nice number (for carries), but I know that Rutgers won a lot of games giving it to Ray Rice 35 times,'' Wannstedt said. "So, my reputation, I think you know I'm not afraid to hand it to him. ... Great running backs want the ball, (and) you've got to tackle Dion every time out there.

"In the fourth quarter, those 2.5-yard runs become four-yard runs. (And) you've got to get in a rhythm running the ball. He's proven that he can do it all, take it inside or outside, and that's very unusual for any back. Let alone a freshman, (but) it's too early in the season to talk about the Heisman.''

Freshman or not, it appears that Lewis is in sync with his offensive line, and it's no secret that they enjoy blocking for him. Just ask senior guard John Malecki.

"Dion's doing a lot of incredible things,'' Malecki said. "He's a four-quarter, smash-mouth kind of guy, a Pittsburgh-style running back, even though he's not from around here. You can tell that he loves to run the football, and he's done it a few times now where he breaks off a big run in the second half.

"So, it's great to see that. With all the work he put in, graduating early, coming in here early and working so hard to get ready for this season, I'm so happy that it's paying off for him. He worked very, very hard this summer to get everything out of our strength and conditioning program.

"Dion tried to get caught up to some of the older guys that way,'' Malecki added. "But we want to be the best second-half team that we possibly can, Dion has taken that personally. You can tell that by how well he plays, and that makes us all want to step it up a notch. And we love to run the ball, too.''

So, while any Heisman talk might be a bit premature for now, if Lewis continues to pile up the yardage and touchdowns -- and even more importantly Pitt keeps winning football games -- the correct time eventually will arrive.

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