Lewis helping to drive Gators
When the Florida Gators bus from their team hotel to the Superdome on Wednesday to face Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, assistant Derek Lewis will be fulfilling the next step in his dream.
Not long ago, it was a dream that seemed highly improbable, if not altogether impossible.
New Orleans is a city familiar to Lewis. Before becoming a college assistant, he grew up there and more recently spent three years as a bus driver in the city looking to make a living while he pieced together the next step of his life.
A graduate of St. Augustine High School, Lewis earned a scholarship to play football at Texas. From there, he played in the NFL for two seasons before a career-ending injury to his knee forced him out of football.
That led to Lewis becoming a bus driver in New Orleans — hardly the most glamorous job a person could ask for. Unlike the luxurious vehicles that transport the Gators to and from practice in the Superdome, Lewis maneuvered a city bus in an area known for its shady reputation.
Gators coach Will Muschamp smirked and ultimately refused when asked to retell a story he has heard from Lewis about his time as a bus driver, but it was clear Muschamp has a high level of respect for Lewis and his ability to turn around a life seemingly destined for mediocrity.
Unfulfilled with his job as a bus driver, Lewis sought to return to the game of football — his true passion — in 2005. He became a graduate assistant at Texas and was hired to coach defensive ends at North Texas in 2007 before landing as tight ends coach at Minnesota later that year.
Lewis spent three years at Minnesota but was let go after a coaching change.
Shortly thereafter, Muschamp — who had recently become the coach of the Gators — hired him to a similar position. Muschamp knew Lewis from their days at Texas and was confident he would be an asset on his staff.
“A lot of people that worked with him talked about his energy and his passion, and he’s an outstanding guy on the field as far as coaching the position,” Muschamp said Friday during a media session. “He’s a great example of a guy that’s been through a tough time and pushed through it.”
Though Muschamp knows the depths of the struggles Lewis has overcome, the Florida players have only a vague understanding of what he has been through.
Senior receiver Omarius Hines knew little of Lewis’ history when asked, a response likely common among many players.
Instead, the Gators know Lewis as perhaps the most intense coach on staff. Given it’s a staff including Muschamp and Jeff Dillman, among others, that is saying something.
Prior to Florida’s showdown with LSU in The Swamp in October, Lewis exceeded anything the players had before seen. Known for speeches that peel the paint off the wall, Lewis went a step further, punching a white board that hung in the locker room with enough force to spew blood down his arm.
But Lewis refused to miss the game. He had the arm taped and coached with what was later diagnosed as five severed tendons.
“He’s a real intense coach,” defensive end Lerentee McCray said. “I was over at my locker just looking at him thinking, ‘This man crazy.’”
Crazy is one adjective that might help characterize Lewis. He prefers passionate. Driven. Hungry.
Lewis knows there is a fine line between greatness and mediocrity. He toiled away for years in a thankless job that left him wanting more for himself.
Now he has it, and he has spent about as much time on a bus in New Orleans as he hopes to. However, he wants his final ride out of town to be slightly different — this time as a Sugar Bowl champion.
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2014 Football Commits
|Davidson (NC) Day|
|Cross City (Fla.) Dixie County|
|Jacksonville (Fla). Raines|
|Deland (Fla.) High|
|New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine|
|Miami (Fla.) Central|
|Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas|
2013 Basketball Commits
|Clermont (Fla.) Montverde Academy|
|Bonifay (Fla) Holmes County|
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