On the right track

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

East Carolina’s Lance Lewis (1) makes a touchdown catch over South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore (5) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Charlotte. Saturday. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

GREENVILLE — Heading into East Carolina’s season opener against No. 12 South Carolina all eyes would be watching how Pirates’ star wide receiver Lance Lewis would fare against Gamecocks’ all-American candidate cornerback Stephon Gilmore. It took just a little over a quarter for the senior wideout to prove he can hang with the big boys.
Matched up one-on-one with Gilmore, the 6-3, 210-pound JUCO transfer from East Mississippi CC streaked down the left side of the field and out-jumped the Gamecocks’ star corner for a 19-yard TD pass.
“It was just a fade route and (Davis) threw it. I saw it first, Gilmore didn’t and that’s how I was able to make the play,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t that hard of a play. I’m used to that, we practice it all the time.”
Lewis finished the game with 13 catches and 108 yards, both game-highs, while scoring twice in the Pirates’ 56-37 loss.
Lewis, a Concord native, joined East Carolina last year and had a tremendous season as he set a school record with 14 touchdown receptions, while his 89 catches and 1,116 yards where the second-most in a season by a Pirates’ receiver.
In 2010, Lewis and Dwayne Harris, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Cowboys, formed one of the nation’s top receiving duos. While Harris, who owns just about every ECU record for a receiver, was dynamic, it was Lewis who was statistically more dangerous down the stretch as he led the team with 52 catches for 661 yards in the second half of the year.
That kind of showing can bring about NFL talk, and with season-opening game like the one he had against Gilmore and the Gamecocks, that talk should increase as the year goes on.
“He’s got a chance (to play in the NFL) but he needs to keep working,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “There’s a lot of great guys that look like they would be a sure-fire NFL first-round pick but weren’t. There were a lot of guys even in this conference (Conference USA) and now nobody even knows who they are. He’s got to keep going at the level he’s going and go harder; you can’t be satisfied. But, I think if he’ stays on this track he’s definitely got a chance.”
Riley, who coached receivers such as Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech, said that Lewis is as good as they come.
“He could be the best one in the country, I believe that,” Riley said. “In this offense, the way it features guys, it gives him an opportunity. That’s why Crabtree, Welker and those guys were who they were coming out of college because A: They were great players and great talents; B: They worked hard and C: They were in a system that let them flourish. He’s got all those same characteristics and the same opportunities, so if he continues to make the most of it he can be as good as there is.”
What makes Lewis so attractive is that at 6-3, 210 pounds he has the height and athleticism that fits the profile of No. 1 receivers at the next level.
Riley said that when compared to 6-foot Harris, Lewis is more in the mold of an outside receiver.
“He’s probably more of a true outside receiver where Dwayne is more of a slot guy at the next level,” Riley said. “(Lewis) has a little bit of a bigger body and runs a little bit better and is just little bit more suited to play outside receiver.
“Some NFL teams only play one slot receiver so there’s limited numbers (of roster spots). Most teams are usually going to have two big outside receivers and may play up to four so he’s got a good shot there.”
This week, Lewis will be matched up with another elite corner in 5-11, 170-pound junior Jayron Housley, who was named first-team all-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The way Lewis looks at it, the more marquee the corner, the better chance he has to make a name for himself.
“I love it because they’re coming in as big time corners and everybody might not know me, but that gives me a chance to show who I am,” Lewis said. “If I do something great against them they might start looking at me more.”