Lewis proves great catch for Terps

September 15, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's football schedule is full of backpedaling cornerbacks and coaches who wished they had taken a chance on Jermaine Lewis.

A senior outside receiver, Lewis already holds the Terps' record for receiving yards, and shares the mark for touchdown receptions. He needs just two more catches to surpass Frank Wycheck's career record of 134, which he expects to do to morrow night against West Virginia at Byrd Stadium, and none of it was expected by the football recruiters who ignored Lewis four years ago.

"By now, I'd like to think that people know me as a football player," Lewis said. "They used to think I was just a track and field guy."

That opinion was shared by nearly every major college football coach when Lewis was a 160-pound running back at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt. He was the nation's top prep sprinter indoors, but won few admirers for his football potential.

Southern Methodist offered a football scholarship. So did East Carolina. As February turned into March in 1992, the new coaching staff at Maryland sold Lewis on the merits of an exotic offense called the run-and-shoot, and he's made a large impression over coach Mark Duffner's three-plus seasons.

The relationship has been mutually beneficial. Lewis has provided the Terps with the premier deep threat in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and he was taught how to play receiver.

"Jermaine had little experience catching the football when he got here," said Rob Spence, now the quarterback coach, but Lewis' first receivers coach in 1992. "People understand that Jermaine has a gear that few humans reach, but they don't see the work he's put in to become a complete football player."

The assorted career records should testify to Lewis' longevity, but he's been plagued by injuries, and has never led the Terps in catches in a single season.

Lewis was slowed by a pulled hamstring as a freshman. What was shaping up as a record-setting sophomore season was derailed in Week 8 by a separated shoulder. A similar ailment kept him out of the Clemson game last year. Coincidence or not, it was the offense's worst performance of 1994.

Still only 20 years old, Lewis hopes that this season's inactivity is behind him. He was suspended for the opener at Tulane for violating the NCAA rule against gambling.

He made his season debut against North Carolina last Saturday, when his six catches for 108 yards accounted for nearly half of the Terps' total offense. The game was a reminder how a 5-foot-8, 170-pounder who talks trash about as often as he shaves -- rarely -- can be his team's most intimidating player.

In the first quarter, Lewis got behind two defenders on a fly pattern, but sophomore quarterback Brian Cummings put too much on the pass. From then on, the cornerback also had great respect for Lewis' speed and provided him an inviting cushion on shorter routes.

Even then, Lewis broke loose for catches of 27 and 40 yards in the go-ahead drive.

"The only reason Jermaine didn't go deep last week [against Tulane] was because he didn't play," North Carolina coach Mack Brown said.

For the record, Lewis' 40-yard -- best is 4.24 seconds. His personal best in the 100 remains the 10.33 he ran as a high school senior.

"Sometimes," Lewis said, "I think about what would have happened if I had concentrated on track."

That's a daydream Maryland football doesn't want to entertain.

NOTE: As of yesterday, 3,500 tickets remained for tomorrow's game.

LEWIS' CAREER

Year .... G .. Rec. .. Yds. .. TD

1992 .... 8 ... 30 ... 346 .... 2

1993 .... 8 ... 52 ... 957 .... 7

1994 ... 10 ... 45 ... 692 .... 9

1995 .... 1 .... 6 ... 108 .... 0

Totals.. 27 .. 133 .. 2103* .. 18**

* - Maryland record

** - Shares Maryland record

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