New Speedster in the Fold

Jeff Lewis (Fleming/11)

Last season, Jeff Lewis impressed the Wisconsin coaches with his speed and elusiveness imitating the spread quarterbacks on the 2010 schedule. Now, Lewis is hoping to impress the coaches like James White did a season ago, by running for a ton of yards out of the Wisconsin backfield.

MADISON – Growing up, Jeff Lewis wanted to be a dynamic running back. He certainly laid the foundation for that at Brookfield Central. Ranked as the No.49 running back in the country by Scout in 2010, Lewis rushed 180 times for 1,305 yards and 18 touchdowns in 18 career games.

With his work on scout team last season, one would have thought he was the next great spread quarterback.

With Wisconsin needing to simulate the speed and elusiveness of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Michigan's Denard Robinson last season and with no quarterback on the UW scout team fitting that billing, the Badgers turned to Lewis.The result was two historic wins for Wisconsin – beating No.1 Ohio State and winning in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1994 – and Lewis twice getting offensive scout team player of the week honors.

Now with John Clay leaving for NFL hopes, Lewis, who has his right hand wrapped due to a thumb injury, is hoping to do what classmate James White did last season, make an impact his first season on the field. After a recent practice, Lewis shares his expectations with Badger Nation.

Badger Nation: We haven't seen a lot of you, but we've heard a lot about you with your scout team work. Talk about when you play a guy like Robinson or Pryor, what that does for you moving forward because you aren't going to be playing quarterback at this level?

Lewis: It's just really an honor to see how much respect they have for me. I take it as a compliment because it makes me better, the defense better and helps me realize what it takes to compete. Hopefully, it makes me better this year.

Badger Nation: How hard is it to come out here and prove your worth when you have a big cast on your right thumb?

Lewis: I try to not let it bother me. To tell you the truth, I never really think of it. The only thing is that I can't hold a ball in my right hand. Like Coach Hammock says, don't let that be a crutch on yourself and don't feel sorry for yourself, so I don't. I just come out here and that I can play with one arm.

Badger Nation: Are you going to have the cast on for the rest of spring

Lewis: Yes, for precautionary reasons. I actually take the cast off during the day and after practice, but I'll be playing with it for the spring game.

Badger Nation: How much winter conditioning did you get to go through until you had the injury?

Lewis: I got through everything, and I didn't miss a beat. It was about the second to last week when I injured it, but I got it cast up and I can still lift and run. So, it's a blessing to be able to play with this one and not lose anything I have gained since I've been here.

Badger Nation: How did you grow last year? Did you feel you would have a chance to come in and contribute like James White or did you think that you needed a redshirt?

Lewis: You know, I come out and try to do my best every day. As I saw, James was more mentally ready because he knew the plays and got them down way quicker than I did. I am glad that I redshirted for the most part because I grew physically and mentally. You just learn so much about the game, small things that can make or break the play of the game.

Badger Nation: You said ‘for the most part.' What weren't you happy with during your redshirt year?

Lewis: It wasn't that I wasn't happy, it was just that I was excited to come in and play. I took it as an honor each and every week to make myself better and the defense better playing on scout team. That was fun playing as different guys each week, so it was a compliment to me.

Badger Nation: How have you grown from the time you were fighting to play last fall to now? You know the plays, which is key, but where else have you improved?

Lewis: Well, I feel I know the plays front to back. I've grown physically, because I was real skinny coming in. Being a Big Ten running back, you have to be able to take hits and get those three or four yards. I've gained almost 10 pounds since I have been here to be able to do that consistently.

Badger Nation: What's the hardest part about trying to figure out a playbook, especially here where the running game is so important to the team's success?

Lewis: I'd say pass blocking for the most part because in high school, you'd just get the handoff and do your thing. Here, you have to read the linebacker, the entire secondary and all the other keys. It's not as hard as you think it would be if you watch film on it every day. It gets easier and easier and the only thing that is going to help me is more reps. I am just glad that I am contributing and the more reps I get, the easier it'll be for me.

Badger Nation: How much is your weight up from high school or down considering you probably had some high school fat? Do you feel you have that same burst?

Lewis: It's up nine pounds since I've been here and I feel I still have it. I feel more explosive actually, but I have that breakaway speed that I came in with. I am not trying to get too big because it'll work against you after awhile. The more muscle I can put on without hurting my speed, I'll do it.

Badger Nation: What's the feedback been like from Coach Hammock when he had his first meeting with you?

Lewis: He said that me going 100 miles a hour each play and being more mentality there, like pass blocking, is a huge thing for me.

Badger Nation: Is pass blocking the most overlooked thing for a running back? That seems like the one thing that makes someone a complete running back instead of a situational one?

Lewis: I'd say that is for the most part. When they play brought Montee Ball in for James out, that's because of experience. The weight is a part of it, too, taking on these 260-pound Big Ten linebackers. James did a fantastic job blocking last year and all the running backs brought something different to the table. It's good to learn by watching each of them.

Badger Nation: When you study film, do you study their game film, your practice film or a combination of everybody to understand what you need to do to get better?

Lewis: I'll watch their game film, my practice film from last year but mostly watching game situations because that's what we are doing out here on offense. I like watching the defensive line because Coach Hammock teaches us how to read different defenses. Sometimes we watch other team's running backs on how they react to a hole and how the defensive line reacts back to the linebackers and the safeties, as well.

Badger Nation: Is that the best thing now is that you are running your plays? You can grow on scout team, but you aren't growing with your playbook.

Lewis: It is great because each and every day, you take a step forward and you are getting better. I just try to do that each time I come out here, but it's a lot easier running our plays every day.

Badger Nation: Was the experience in Pasadena like, especially for a Wisconsin native getting to travel for the first time last season?

Lewis: It was really surreal and it was really a blessing to come that far over the season. It was great to help the defense out and each and every day, it was amazing that we were there. Once we got to game week though, we had to pick up the focus and buckle down, which was something I learned. It also showed us that if we want success and want to be here, you've got to work for it. Nothing is given to you and that's not something that happens every day, so we're just working to get back to a championship like that next year.

Badger Nation: You are joining a running back group where it's three stars had at least 996 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. How excited does that make you feel for the opportunity to make an impact?

Lewis: Like Coach Hammock says, ‘what have you done for me lately?' and he wants everyone to grow from last year. He does want us to settle and wants everyone to get better each and every day. If I am given the opportunity, I am going to take full advantage of it, so I am excited for this year.

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