Lewis Leaps Into the Fray

Of the many new faces that appeared for West Virginia in Saturday's romp over East Carolina, freshman cornerback Antonio Lewis may have the brightest future of all.

Antonio Lewis plays in the Mountaineers rabbit package, where he comes in as one of four cornerbacks. He is also a member of the nickel and dime defenses, as well as backing up superstar Adam Jones at boundary corner. The freshman out of Waldorf, Md., came to WVU last January as a greyshirt, and has worked his way up the depth chart into a position for solid playing time this fall.

Lewis was in for just 23 plays on Saturday night, but that's 23 more than he'd ever played on the college level heading into the game. It was also the first time he'd played in front of 60,000 people.

"When the play starts you zone (the crowd) out, but when you're standing there before the game.... well, I'm used to playing in front of 2000 or 3000 people, so it was a lot different," Lewis said of his first collegiate experience.

Lewis was a standout quarterback at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf. In his sophomore and junior seasons at Stone, he had played a lot on defense. For his senior year though, the coaches wanted him to focus mainly on his duties as a quarterback. When he was being recruited by the WVU staff, he knew he wasn't going to be a QB for the Mountaineers.

"They made it clear that they would be using me on defense when I got here."

Many first time college players are awed not only by the crowds and other glitzy things that come with playing on a national stage, but also the speed of the game. Lewis felt that his experience in Spring drills as well as preseason practice helped prepare him for playing on a new level.

"When I first got here, checking 'Slim' (Chris Henry) in practice, you learn that (speed of the game). Once you get into the game it's still fast, but you feel like you're prepared because you've practiced against some of the best guys in the nation. In high school, in my conference, you can't compare that anywhere near right now," explained the 5'10" 190 pound freshman.

With just one game under his belt, Lewis knows he has a long way to go before he reaches his full potential as a defensive back.

"I just listen to everybody, and try to get better every practice. As long as we work hard, I'll let them put me wherever i'm going to play. I knew i wasn't going to be at quarterback. I just wanted to come here and help, bottom line.

"Coach Gibby started at ground zero with me, I didn't know anything. I just tried to get any information I could from him. If you see me at practice I'm always following coach Gibby or asking Pacman something," said Lewis of constantly trying to make the most of his opportunity in the defensive backfield.

Lewis is also skilled enough to return kicks and punts for the Mountaineers. His biggest play on special teams in Saturday's game didn't come with the ball in his hands though. During Jones' 76-yard punt return touchdown, it was Lewis' block that sprung him free. Antonio notes that his experience as a kick returner helps him when he's blocking for other people returning kicks.

"If I was back there, I don't want anybody giving up on me. If you give Pacman a second he's gone, so i just tried to give him that second."

There's still 10 games left on the schedule, and the thought here is that by the end of the season, Lewis will improve by leaps and bounds from where he is right now, which is still far ahead of where most corners are in their first season.

"At corner you can get better, it doesn't matter how good you are you can get better everyday. I need to get better at everything," admits Lewis of his youth.

If you don't know a lot about Lewis right now, one notable Mountaineer player thinks you'll hear about him sometime in the near future.

"Antonio reminds me a lot of myself, because he has the ability to be one of the best out there. He's going to be one of the best before it's over with I promise you that," says no less of an authority than the aforementioned Pacman.

Lewis's contributions to Gibson's secondary will only help this season. And with plenty of eligibility left, it's a safe bet that we'll be hearing more and more from Antonio as he comes into his own on the defensive side of the ball.

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