Lewis bulling way into ASU backfield picture

Lewis scores a 62-yard TD during the Camp Tontozona scrimmage (Photo: Ralph Amsden)

After Jason Lewis burst down the left sideline on his way for a 62-yard touchdown run during last Saturday’s scrimmage at Camp Tontozona, several media members turned and commented to each other about the play.

The gist? A person that big shouldn’t be able to move that fast.

Yet there it was, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound true freshman sprinting his way past defenders and into the endzone.

"It was an outside zone play,” Lewis told me after the scrimmage. “I saw the D-ends crash, and I just broke one tackle. My momentum kept me going that way. Once I saw a lot of green grass, I just picked up my feet and ran."

It was one of the highlights of the team’s annual scrimmage between the pines and part of an eight-carry, 89-yard day by Lewis, whose vast potential has both coaches and fans buzzing.

Lewis came to ASU from Virginia Beach, Virginia as a coveted four-star recruit and participant in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Even after a senior year in which he rushed for 2,030 yards and 31 touchdowns, many schools recruited him to play positions other than running back given his rare combination of size and athleticism. But staying in the backfield was critical to Lewis, and that was an opportunity that ASU was happy to offer.

"I fit the best here,” Lewis said of ASU. “I get to play with great people. The system fits me.”

Lewis chose the Sun Devils over a host of other prominent offers, such as Florida, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Unfortunately, a delay in getting clearance from the NCAA resulted in Lewis missing the team’s first week of fall camp. Lewis finally joined the team during their trip up to Camp Tontozona last week, and he scrambled to catch up as fast as he could.

Despite the setback, Lewis is taking his uphill battle in stride.

"It kind of sucks, but you got to do what you got to do,” Lewis said. “I have only been here for a week, but I'm definitely catching things fast. Over time, I'll just get better and better."

Making the effort more difficult was the NCAA rule prohibiting him from having access to the playbook until receiving clearance, despite having been officially signed with ASU for several months.

"It's coming along well,” Lewis said of his grasp of the playbook. "As of now, I know enough that I can go in there, but I need to know a lot more checks and formations. Things are different here. I just have to get the hang of it."

Thankfully for Lewis, he has plenty of help in getting him up to speed. His new backfield mates in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have been among many teammates helping Lewis in his transition.

"They are amazing,” Lewis said. “I never had people that actually coached me like that, besides just my high school coach. Now when I get here, every play I'm looking at, I'm asking D-Rich the play, I'm asking Ballage the play, I'm asking Brady White the play. When I'm not in, I'm still getting reps.”

When he is on the field, Lewis is hard to miss. Playing at a size far more common with defensive ends than tailbacks, Lewis has already flashed some of his potential.

"A lot of the zone plays and the A-gap plays, those are my strong suits,” Lewis said of his playing style. “Hit the A-gap, bounce it, or just cut it up. That's my favorite."

Given the team’s depth at running back and his late start, taking a redshirt year could be seen as a prudent move. Lewis has other ideas.

“No redshirt, I'm definitely going to be coming off the bench (this year),” he said. “Time will tell, but I'm getting into the flow of things and helping out in any way I can, but no redshirt."

Whenever he does take to the field, it could create a nightmare scenario for opposing defensive coordinators. Facing the ASU ground game would mean trying to stop a multi-headed beast comprised of the powerful Richard, the explosive Ballage, and the speedy De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes before 240-pound super-sub Lewis enters the fray.

“Whenever I get acclimated, midseason or however long it takes, whenever they need me to go in, I'm ready to go in and make big plays,” Lewis said. “Be like a sixth man, coming off the bench guy."

With a few weeks of practices remaining, Lewis is continuing to try to work himself into the backfield rotation, but he and his teammates are now setting their sights on the huge season opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 5.

"We're getting focused for A&M, and there's a lot of buzz,” Lewis said. “My first game is in an NFL stadium in front of however many people. I might be nervous, but I'll get the hang of it. The buzz around the locker room, we love it. We're excited for this."

That game will be the first step in a Sun Devil career that Lewis hopes is filled with lofty achievements. Second only to a national title, Lewis is looking to fulfill a certain childhood dream.

"I'm looking forward to playing in the Rose Bowl. Growing up, that was one of my favorite things, and I always wanted to play in the Rose Bowl.”

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