TEMPE, Ariz. -- There are still a few miles to go on the long road back.
With the start of spring practices this week, Deantre Lewis begins his fifth season as a Sun Devil, the final chapter in one of the most turbulent Arizona State careers in recent memory.
By now, every ASU fan knows Lewis' story.
He burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2010, showing exceptional game-breaking ability as both a runner and receiver. Expectations were high.
However, that all changed in February of 2011. Lewis was the victim in a random shooting, taking a bullet in the buttocks. As a result, he sat out the year as he recovered and rehabilitated the injury.
The process was slow. Lewis saw very limited time in 2012. Despite seeing action at both his natural running back position and safety, his impact was minimal. Yet through his struggles and rehabilitation, he was surrounded by unwavering support, including that of Sun Devil fans.
"The fans kept me high when I was down and not playing," said Lewis. "It’s nice seeing them say nice stuff and keeping my head up."
Lewis also credits the fan support for inspiring him to give back.
"It’s good to be an inspiration to little kids that have problems and still want to do play sports, but they are afraid," Lewis said. "That’s my whole key. I tell them to not be afraid and to go get your dreams.”
Last season was the first time Lewis was able to truly perform on the field since the shooting. He flashed his old explosiveness with a 57-yard catch and run in the opener against Sacramento State, and scored his first touchdown in nearly three years when he scored against USC. In 13 games, he carried 58 times for 301 yards and one touchdown while adding nine receptions for 107 yards.
Yet while his season had it's share of highlights, costly fumbles earned Lewis time on the bench as well. Regaining that consistency became the top takeaway for Lewis from last season.
“I felt like it was a good year for me, but I wasn’t very consistent," Lewis said. "That’s why my playing time went up and down. I understand that from the coaches’ standpoint. This year, I came here to prove that I can be consistent through the practices. Stay consistent, and to gain the trust of the coaches. Ball security. It’s little stuff that I have to work at to prove to the coaches that I’m ready.”
With a hard journey behind him and spring ball here, Lewis is now fully focused on the road ahead.
The Sun Devil backfield will have a a new look to it due to the departure of starter Marion Grice, who tallied 39 total touchdowns in his two years at ASU. While a different style of runner, Grice's relentless playing style left an impression on Lewis.
“Marion is a good guy. He’s a very patient guy, no matter how his runs are going,” said Lewis. “He can have 10 carries for 20 yards, and he’ll keep his head high and not show any struggle. That’s what I got from him, to be patient and let things come to you.”
Losing a player of Grice's caliber raises plenty of questions, but the talent level on the roster provides many possible answers.
Prior to spring practices beginning, head coach Todd Graham said that junior running back D.J. Foster is "definitely our premier back and the guy we're looking for." While that answers the starter issue, Lewis expects the Sun Devils to rely once again on multiple running backs and sees himself playing an important role.
“We’re going to do a lot of stuff that we did last year,” Lewis said. “D.J. and I at wideout and running back, however they want to do it. D.J. and I are trying to prove that we can keep two backs in the game at all times. That’s working on our stamina and being consistent with our plays.”
Foster and Lewis may very well become the program's next dynamic duo, but they will be getting some help this fall.
ASU signed three very talented running backs in their 2014 recruiting class: prep stars Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, and junior college transfer De'Chavon Hayes. All three players bring a bevy of versatile skills to the depth chart, and Lewis believes that ASU fans won't have to wait long to see them in action.
“They can bring an early impact,” said Lewis. “It’s just like when I was coming in as a freshman. They believed in me to come in and make a big impact. I believe that all three can do it. They all have big play abilities when you get the ball in their hands. That’s something we need in this offense.”
Even with so many talented teammates potential vying for carries, Lewis' confidence is higher now than at any point since the shooting. That belief is being reflected on Twitter, as Lewis has taken to using a new hashtag, #ChosenOne, to describe himself and his struggle to get back to form.
“It was a name given to me when I first got here, but I never wanted to go by it because I never believed in it," Lewis said. "Nothing happened to me to make me think I was the chosen one. But then after the shooting and the years and years to come back, I’m still here. I think I’ll live up to the name Chose One. God put me here for a reason, and I’m going to do my job.”
With the #ChosenOne just one of many playmakers on the Arizona State offense, Lewis has one goal for his senior year.
“My goal is to lead this team to a Rose Bowl and a national championship. I believe we have the team to do it.”