In four years with the Miami Hurricanes, offensive lineman Anthony Lewis earned a diploma, went to four major bowl games and received a national championship ring.
He also never played a down.
“I could blame people; I could blame myself,” Lewis said. “I don’t choose to do that. I got an education for free and had a great time doing it.”
In the case of the 23-year-old Lewis, a football factory produced a scholar. He received his degree in psychology a year ago, finished a second major in criminology in August and then entered graduate school at Boston University, where he earned a master’s degree in psychology this spring and will now look for work in human services.
“I was always begging the coaches to play him,” said academic adviser Anna Price, “because I was looking for an Academic All-American.”
But the A student never lettered for the Hurricanes. Football was the one subject he failed.
As a high school senior in Brockton, Mass., Lewis was rated by one publication as the nation’s 11th-best offensive line prospect. An older brother played at Michigan, and Lewis was courted by the Wolverines, Nebraska, Syracuse and Pittsburgh before deciding to attend Miami.
He was 18 years old, stood 6-foot5 and weighed 275 pounds.
“I was expecting him to be a stud,” said quarterback Frank Costa, who also signed with Miami that winter.
But as a freshman, Lewis struggled in practice. He was surrounded by great athletes and couldn’t adjust to the higher level of competition.
“The pace is a lot faster,” he said. “They don’t coddle you. There’s media exposure, the practices are open, the fans are there. There’s a lot more pressure.”
On the depth chart, Lewis sank like a 275-pound rock. Was it a lack of speed, strength or aggressiveness?
“Just about all of that,” assistant offensive line coach Art Kehoe said.
Offensive line coach Gregg Smith, now an assistant to former Miami coach Dennis Erickson with the Seattle Seahawks, said the primary problem was Lewis’ footwork.
“He learned things well,” Smith said, “but he had trouble putting that in his feet and getting going in the right direction all the time.”
Lewis had no trouble getting to class, however. Former roommate C.J. Richardson recalls that Lewis began his day earlier than the rest of the team.
“He had an old alarm clock,” Richardson said, groaning at the recollection, “and he woke up everyone at 6:30 to go to study hall. He’d get up at the same time every day no matter what. His education came before everything.”
The coaches, meanwhile, decided their heavily recruited lineman was a bust. While Lewis’ teammates were blocking and tackling, he was sitting and watching. He had a frontrow view of Miami’s 1991 national championship season.
In the spring of Lewis’ sophomore year, he met with coach Smith to discuss the situation.
“Your chances of ever playing at Miami are not very good,” Smith told Lewis. “If you want to try to play, I’ll do everything in my power to help you go somewhere else, say in Division I-AA. It’s entirely up to you.”
For Lewis, the decision was easy.
“I’ve made a lot of friends here, and I’m doing well in school,” he said to Smith. “I’d like to stay.”
That sealed Lewis’ football fate. He never missed a practice but stopped going to games - unless Miami was playing Florida State or another tough opponent.
“I figured if they’re not going to play me, I’m not going to waste my time on the sidelines,” Lewis said. “I mean, come on. It’s noon, it’s 90 degrees and you’re in a hot uniform sweating your butt off. I said, ‘Forget this. Miami is a beautiful city; there are a million things I can do on a Saturday afternoon.’
“It was no big deal to the coaches, as long as I went to practice. That’s where I earned my keep.”
Revoking Lewis’ scholarship was never considered, Smith said. A typical class at Miami will include at least a couple of recruits who never play much, and like most major programs, the Hurricanes allow such players to keep their scholarships. To do otherwise could harm recruiting in the long run.
Lewis’ career ended on a bench in Tempe, Ariz., where he watched Miami lose to Arizona 29-0 in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.
He harbors neither regret nor bitterness. Instead, he’s proud of discovering at a young age that textbooks are more important than playbooks.
“I dedicated myself to academics,” he said. “I came to grips with the fact I wouldn’t play.
“I said that’s fine. I wanted to go to graduate school. I allowed football to be a tool for me to go to college for free.
“A lot of people don’t understand. Players have these aspirations about going to the NFL. When you’re 18 or 19, you’re thinking football, football, football. But it’s such a small part of your life.”
xxxx Lost in the system From the 1993 Miami Hurricanes’ media guide, a capsule of offensive lineman Anthony Lewis’ career going into his final year: As a freshman in 1990: “Sat out the season but worked as a member of the scout team.” As a sophomore in 1991: “Spent the season developing and adjusting to the Hurricane offensive system.” As a junior in 1992: “Sat out the season while working with the scout team … continued to adjust to the Hurricane system and work in the weight room.” As a senior in 1993: “Will continue to develop and adjust to the Hurricane offensive system. … A hard worker in the weight room.” - Associated Press