DeKALB – Northern Illinois receiver Tommylee Lewis isn’t much for words.
Asked about his assessment of spring practice on Wednesday, the sophomore said he’s “just out here having fun playing football.” Asked how he’s had to adjust his game because of his 5-foot-7 stature, he responded: “Nothing. Play football and have fun.”
But Lewis’ electric play last year spoke volumes.
In his first game after coach Dave Doeren decided to remove Lewis’ redshirt because the defense couldn’t stop him on the scout team, Lewis scored against Cal Poly the first time he touched the ball. The play was called back, but Lewis scored later in the game.
Five games later against Toledo, Lewis returned the Rockets’ first two kickoffs of the game for touchdowns. The plays kicked off a wild, 63-60, NIU win.
“He’s the reason the game was the way it was,” senior receiver Martel Moore said.
Did that change the way Lewis thought about his standing with the team?
“Not really,” Lewis said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s exciting, it was fun. But I just stay humble and play ball.”
Last season, Lewis’ duties were restricted to special teams and handoffs.
This season, that will change. Speedy receiver Nathan Palmer graduated after compiling 695 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, and Lewis is expected to fill that void along with Jamison Wells and Da’Ron Brown.
“Da’Ron has been in there and Jamison’s been in there, but Tommylee gives us another gear,” Doeren said.
“Instead of just being a returner and a jet-sweep guy, he’s running corner routes and choice routes and screens, and he’s a guy that can do some unbelievable things with the ball in his hands.”
This year, Lewis has focused on becoming a complete player, instead of just a returner and a specialist. That’s paid off with consistent first-team reps throughout spring practice.
“He’s learned the whole playbook,” Moore said. “He’s tried to learn every position so he can switch from position to position. Last year, he played just one position, but this year he really put it into his head that he wants to be more of a contributor on the offense and not just special teams.”
Doeren praised Lewis for his consistency throughout the spring and said he’ll play in the slot and on the outside.
“I think last year, he knew the plays and he was running,” Doeren said. “I think now he knows how to use the plays and look at a defense. The game slows down for you when you start to understand what’s on the other side of the line of scrimmage.”
Doeren and Moore think Lewis can become a big-time receiver.
Asked about his new role, Lewis didn’t have much to say.
“I’m hoping it will [expand],” Lewis said. “I’m just going to keep coming out here and work hard.”