Football: Ragin' Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis 'a student of the game'
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 29, 2019
UL QB Levi Lewis looks for an open receiver in the football game between UL and Grambling State University at Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana on September 01, 2018. (Photo: Michael O. Curley/Special to The Advertiser)
He has the smarts. He has the commitment. He has the backing of teammates.
But the big knock on UL quarterback Levi Lewis, who is slated to start for the Ragin’ Cajuns when they open their 2019 season against Mississippi State on Saturday morning at the Superdome in New Orleans, is his height.
A product of Scotlandville Magnet High in Baton Rouge, the junior is listed at 5-foot-10.
By today’s NCAA FBS standards, even at a time when prototypical drop-back passers are not the norm in college ball, that’s a tad short.
Then there’s the quirk.
Lewis is lefthanded.
So when second-season UL head coach Billy Napier first began working with Lewis hands-on in 2017, Napier had to flip his own mind.
A former quarterback himself at Furman, and an ex-offensive coordinator at Clemson and later Arizona State, Napier — who calls plays for the Cajuns — is right-handed.
He throws that way and thinks that way.
But with dual-threat Lewis in the lineup last season, regularly playing every fourth series as the backup to then-senior Andre Nunez, the Cajuns coach had to starting thinking, and drawing up plays, like a lefty too.
Initially, it was something of a challenge. In due time, though, he was able to figure out how to do it.
There is, however, that other matter Napier cannot think his way around, no matter how much he may try.
UL's quarterback Levi Lewis throws a pass as the Ragin' Cajuns football team plays their annual Spring football game against one another in the Leon Moncla trainig facility on April 13, 2019. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
“It’s more of a scripting issue for me,” he said of designing and picking plays, “because I’m visualizing it from a quarterback perspective. But once you get into that groove, it’s no big deal at all.
“The big thing is I don’t know we have tons of limits with him, which is a bonus for us. He’s got tremendous arm talent. … And then he can run.
“The only thing, Napier added, “(is) he’s lacking is height.”
Lewis cannot control his vertical growth.
But he has been able to pack on pounds and muscle since arriving at UL in 2017, when he was listed on the Cajun roster — perhaps quite generously — at 5-11 and 185.
That should help as the little lefty takes over as the Cajuns’ full-time starter.
“He’s got some stature to him. He’s about 190 pounds right now,” Napier said. “So, we’re very pleased with Levi and his skill set and what he brings to our offense.”
Teammates, too, seem certain Lewis has what it takes to lead an offensive loaded with talent at the skill positions.
Although Nunez started all 14 of 7-7 UL’s games in 2018, their new No. 1 QB does have some starting experience at the college level.
In 2017, under former Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth, Lewis made it known he planned to graduate in four years, indicating he did not want to be redshirted.
With his quarterback room a bit of a revolving door at the time, and both Nunez and Jordan Davis getting starts earlier that season, Hudspeth turned to the freshman late in the year, starting him in three of the four games in which he appeared.
Flash forward, and teammates see a more-confident Lewis — someone who knows he’s the main man this season, and who has learned the playbook inside and out.
Things are coming quicker for him now, and the offense — featuring a trio of standout running backs in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais Jr., and two standout receivers in Ja’Marcus Bradley and Jarrod “Bam” Jackson, and playing behind an experienced line anchored by right-side behemoths Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson — should run more smoothly as a result.
“He’s … a student of the game, so, really, he’s just way more comfortable, from just learning everything,” Mitchell said awhile back.
Lewis is a cerebral sort.
To calm nerves, he’s been known to take time to meditate.
He came to UL with a quest for knowledge, and he’s added building blocks to the base ever since arriving.
“Shoot,” he said, “I think about plays when I’m asleep.
“My first fall camp here, I would take a nap in the afternoon — the plays just running in my head, so I could hardly sleep.”
It all translates to someone who is trusted by those around him most.
“So Levi, he’s going to be special on the field,” Mitchell said.
That’s the whole reason UL’s offense — factoring in his favored hand, and accounting for his height — is designed largely around what he can and cannot do.
“You always start, in my opinion, with what your quarterback can do relative to an offense,” Napier said. “You know, wherever we’ve been in the past we’ve kind of had that mentality, that approach.
“So I think we’re gonna have a talented group around him … and he certainly can distribute the ball and make great decisions. Levi’s really good when it breaks down as well.”
No matter what he can or cannot see.
With that in mind, and knowing the height issue cannot be controlled, Lewis simply finds ways to compensate.
“Getting the ball out quicker. Being smart with the ball,” he said. “Taking care of the ball, like it’s your first-born. … And just being a leader, on and off the field.”
All of which may help, to one degree or another.
But — truth be told — does Lewis wish he was 3 or 4 inches taller?
“Nah,” he said. “God blessed me with the talent I have. I’m blessed the way I am.”