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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Smallest Cougar plays big

Robert Lewis continues to wow team with his efforts

Small, but mighty Robert Lewis, scores against USC last year. (Tyler Tjomsland)
LEWISTON – Washington State’s smallest offensive player made the biggest play of the 2014 season. And he didn’t even have the football. Vince Mayle caught a pass from Connor Halliday on a routine slant route and quickly raced upfield. Utah defensive back Justin Thomas had a clear route to the receiver and if he caught Mayle, it would still be a big play for the Cougars, but not a decisive one. But 5-foot-9, 162-pound Robert Lewis sent Thomas flying, clearing the way for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a lead on the road against a Utah team that had a 21-0 lead after the first quarter. Lewis’ block on Thomas, who had about 16 pounds on the receiver, was a snapshot effort play, a moment of dominance over a bigger opponent thanks to an effort that kept fans in a tizzy for a week afterward. “I get it all the time,” Lewis said. “‘Oh, the smallest guy on the team making the big block.’” I think people didn’t expect it.” He’s probably correct. When Lewis committed to play for WSU, as a senior in high school he was a scant 140 pounds, so light that the Cougars asked him to delay his enrollment for a season, a process called “gray shirting” to allow him to gain some weight. After a redshirt season in which he added more size, Lewis debuted for the Cougars last fall and made three starts. Lewis is now listed at 170 pounds and appears physically ready to hold up to taking hits from Pac-12 defenders. But he will always be one of the smallest players on the field. “I’ve always had that,” Lewis said. “I’m pretty much used to it. I’ve always heard I’m too little. That just makes me go harder and know that people are going to underestimate me. That’s why I go hard.” Lewis made one of the most impressive plays during WSU’s preseason camp on Monday, turning around a defender on a wheel route to give Luke Falk plenty of room to hit the receiver on his way to the end zone. Falk’s pass was overthrown and seemed well out of reach of the speedy receiver. But Lewis dove forward with arms outstretched to secure the pass in his fingertips even as his entire body hung horizontal above the end zone. “Every time I’ve thrown to him, I’ve been impressed,” quarterback Peyton Bender said. “He’s a really fast player and a real playmaker.” Now, he appears set to start for the Cougars at the H-receiver position, because of his speed, his concentration and, yes, his blocking ability. Coach Mike Leach says that Lewis is among the best blockers in WSU’s receiving corps. “Blocking is really about position first,” Leach said. “It’s nice to be big and strong, but you have to be in good position.” Interestingly, the undersized Lewis is now in a good position because of his blocking.

Camp notes

Leach said after practice that the Cougars have filed an appeal with the NCAA on behalf of receiver Kyrin Priester to waive the requirement that he sit out the season after transferring from Clemson. Priester was dismissed from the Clemson football program and signed financial aid papers with WSU last year, participating in spring practices. Priester has been one of WSU’s most impressive players during the Cougars preseason camp and would likely make an immediate impact if his appeal is successful. … Erik Powell appears to have an edge on Brett Schafer in the competition to be WSU’s field-goal kicker in 2015. Powell has been the more accurate kicker through five days of camp, and made a 45-yard field goal during Wednesday’s practice with plenty of room to spare. Powell started two games for the Cougars last season and went 2 of 5 on field-goal attempts with a long of 26 yards.