If Sean Lewis' trajectory seems familiar, it is. Junior tight end Owen Daniels may have spent an additional year at quarterback, but otherwise the stories are remarkable similar. Lewis was a star at Richards H.S. in Oak Lawn, Ill., just as Daniels was in nearby Naperville. Lewis is a good four inches taller and of a slimmer build than Daniels, but each is striking in his athleticism for a bigger athlete. Both turned from passer to pass receiver with a mandate to gain size and strength as quickly as was appropriate.
Of course, there are important differences in the two transitions, but if Lewis ends up as productive as Daniels—the Badgers' second leading receiver this season with 23 receptions for 348 yards—Wisconsin will be smitten with its good fortune.
"We've been talking back and forth ever since the bye week about little things to do here and there," Lewis said of Daniels. "He's been helping me a lot and Joel Nellis, also, has been helping me out extraordinarily. I've been picking O.D.'s brain about things he went through, things I'm going through and what I can do to better myself down the road."
First the differences. Daniels originally did not know whether he was being groomed as a tight end or a wide receiver and spent all of last season in flux before moving permanently to tight end this year. He also was counted on to produce immediately.
Lewis, on the other hand, will have next season to learn from three senior tight ends—Daniels, Nellis and Jason Pociask—while competing with his underclassmen brethren for future playing time. All the while he can work to build up his body from its current 6-foot-7, 235 pounds and learn the position. Having already gained 30 pounds in his true freshman year, Lewis wants to check in at 240 by the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl. When he is set to contend for serious playing time, likely fall of 2006, he expects to be in the 255-60 range.
"I would fluctuate in between probably around 200 and 210 throughout my whole high school career," Lewis said. "I would always try and gain weight but I didn't have the people around me who knew the proper way to go about doing it and gaining the right weight. So I never would."
Lewis credited the UW strength staff with helping him add weight without compromising his athletic ability. If anything, he feels quicker than before.
"The way we've been training, it's not like I'm just throwing weight on, one large amount at a time," Lewis said. "It's gradually coming… As I'm gaining the weight I just feel that it's flowing real natural.
"At times, my cuts and everything, I feel like I'm getting in and out better than I would have, even at the lighter weight, because I'm stronger."
So if planning to add a total of nearly 60 pounds is no big deal, what is the toughest part of the transition?
"Just learning how to block and getting my body ready physically to go down and block a defensive end, someone the likes of Ras," Lewis said, referring to Erasmus James, Wisconsin' s All-American defensive end. "Be strong enough and quick enough to get inside him and have the proper technique to be able to block him."
Yes, Lewis, the tight end neophyte, was thrown right to the wolves. Though he was still a quarterback formally—taking part in quarterback meetings and quarterback drills at the beginning of practice—Lewis began spending time at tight end during Wisconsin's bye week in late October.
"I kind of split time between quarterback and tight end, depending on what the defense needed from me as far as a look," said Lewis, who became a full-time tight end when bowl workouts began last weekend.
"During scout team it would be a routine thing to have to try and block [James] or Jonathan Welsh," Lewis said.
Lewis may carry 235 pounds now, but he still looks rather slim with his tall frame. James and Welsh are just a bit more polished at their positions, to say the least.
"In the beginning I was trying to be real aggressive and Ras would just play with me," Lewis said. "From being able to step back, let me slide by and he'd go right by me. Then when I would calm down, I'd be too hesitant, he'd just bull rush me. In the beginning I was pretty much just like a yo-yo for him, he was just able to play with me.
"I was able to just bounce back from that and learn from that. And he was actually real helpful about telling me things that I was doing that were tipping some things off. So I was able to learn from him as well."
Truth be told, it is far too early to judge Lewis as a blocker or pass receiver. The important thing is recognizing that this is a work in progress with the advantage of time. That said, receiving has been an easier transition than staring down James or Welsh.
"Knowing what we want to do from the quarterback perspective is really going to help me as far as running the routes," Lewis said.
After practice last Saturday, Lewis went back onto the field with freshman quarterback Bryan Savage, one part of the quarterback quartet that forced Lewis into early retirement from the position. Some day, Savage could be throwing passes to Lewis for real.
"I'm definitely going to take the time to do extra things now cause I was working at tight end the last few weeks but I was never really being coached," Lewis said. "It was just kind of like, ‘go, be athletic, do these things.' Now that I'm actually being coached I know certain things that I need to work on."