Lewis hoping to ride fast track to the field

When the prospect of playing early for Indiana was raised, Damarjhe Lewis did little to hide his ambitions.

“I didn’t come nine hours for nothing,” Lewis said. “I gotta get on the field. I got to.”

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle from Griffin, Ga., had every reason to expect it. Florida State, Auburn, Penn State, and Tennessee — just a few in a long list of historically talent-rich programs — showed interest during his recruiting. And there’s a reason they did. Thickly built but extraordinarily quick, Lewis was timed running a 40-yard dash in 4.88 seconds during his high school career.

He plays fast, and he came to Bloomington because he thought this was the place he could play the fastest. But as honest as he can be about his ambitions, Lewis also admits some trepidation.

Once he arrived at IU in January, the offers were stripped away. He was no longer a highly coveted recruit. He was just another freshman trying to establish himself in a Division I program. And that made him nervous.

But that’s when another quick riser stepped in. Tiawan Mullen, the freshman corner, maybe the biggest revelation of the 2019 season for IU’s defense, showed Lewis there was no reason to worry. They watched the film from Mullen’s freshman year, the scrappy 5-10 corner harassing Big Ten receivers of all shapes and sizes.

“I’m coming in and I see o-linemen bigger than me. The receivers are bigger than Tiawan,” Lewis said, “and he competed. That motivates me.”

Replicating the freshman season of a player like Mullen wouldn’t be easy, but Lewis has his goal. Ever since he arrived, he’s had strength coach David Ballou in his ear, telling him he’s a “spring type of dude.”

With young tackles CJ Person and Jeramy Passmore still working their way back from surgeries, Lewis finds himself higher up the depth chart heading into spring practices.

“They’ve been taking me in as a little brother and building me up, because, right now, they’re expecting me to play now because they are out,” Lewis said. “So I’m in for spring right now as second-string. It’s on me.”

Very early on, Lewis seems to have made an impression. When IU coach Tom Allen was asked earlier this month about midyear enrollees that have stood out, Lewis was the first name to escape his mouth.

“Damarjhe Lewis is one who jumps out to me both in terms of talking to the coaching staff and just what I saw. Big-body guy who moves extremely well,” Allen said. “We learned last year with (offensive tackle) Matt Bedford, when you come in mid-year, that increases your chances to be ready to play in the fall. So I think he’s a guy who really sticks out to me and our staff as well.”

Strength is where Lewis is currently trying to improve, because he admits that Griffin High was more of a “speed team.” They lifted about three times a week. They ran every day. That’s where he gets that killer speed off the snap.

He’s practiced it.

“As soon as the ball move, I move. If you flinch, I’m gone,” Lewis said. “That’s the way I train my eyes.”

When he recently matched up with rising sophomore Sio Nofoagatoto’a in a “T” drill — sprints up and back with a side-to-side shuffle in-between — Lewis was happy to get the victory. But he kept it in perspective.

“I was hype, but I knew my speed was there,” Lewis said. “That’s good. The main thing for me right now is competing in the weight room. I get burnt faster than everyone else. I don’t like that feeling right now, but it’s all right. … I got it on lockdown, running.”

In competing with the likes of Nofoagatoto’a and rising junior Demarcus Elliott, Lewis has seen all of the talent the Hoosiers have growing together at the defensive tackle position. Behind rising redshirt senior Jerome Johnson, Lewis has the tools to make an immediate impact as a disruptive, gap-penetrating three-technique.

He just has to earn his way onto the field. Because Lewis has ground to make up, he picked “underdog” as his one word for the season. He may have come in with prestigious offers. He may have caught Allen’s eye early. But he still has a lot to prove between now and spring ball.

“Coming in here, I’m an underdog right now, because no one knows me,” Lewis said. “It’s on me to make myself known, to get myself out there right now. I’m grinding hard for that.”

If he succeeds, Lewis will flash on film like Mullen did.

“We got the same attitude,” Lewis said. “Tiawan was like ‘You don’t have to be nervous, you can do it, freshman year.’ … He was like, the big names, they are really just there, some names. I just gotta compete.”

2 comments

  1. Lewis has the fast twitch explosion off the ball IU needs and doesn’t have in many DTs. I expect him to be disruptive and getting into the backfield on a regular bases. With IU’s young DT they are building a B1G DL. We now need to see DEs that can consistently rush QBs so inside pressure can get to the QBs too. I am excited about Lewis and his explosive first steo off the LOS.

  2. I know there is a lot going on with IU sports right now but I am surprised there isn’t any talk about a DT that was recruited heavily by SEC teams coming to IU. IU needs SEC type of DL players has young ones to go with Jerome Johnson that can elevate the DL. I expect to see Lewis join the rotation with the DL. I want to see the DL men step up and give IU a stronger defense in 2020 season.

    IU isn’t strong enough yet to answer questions heading into the season – coaches or players; yet there is enough talent to be excited about the 2020 season. I hope this is a season where all can come together for the Hoosiers to have a special season in 2020.

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