But the former David Crockett standout took the first step this season at Liberty University.
Expected to be a redshirt, Lewis instead made an immediate impact for the Flames. The defensive lineman was chosen earlier this week as a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
A BIG DEAL
When looking at the schools and names on the list, it’s easy to see how impressive Lewis’ accomplishment was.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle and defensive back Patrick Surtain II, Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays and Tennessee defensive back Bryce Thompson were on the 32-man squad. Lewis was one of 18 true freshmen on the team.
When the season was over, Lewis said he knew he had a chance to earn national recognition.
“Statistically, I led freshmen defensive ends in the nation,” he said. “But I knew with it being our first year in the FBS, it would be really hard to make it.
“I was working out yesterday, and I kept getting calls from my dad. I was ignoring them because I was trying to work out, and he was like, ‘Dude, you just got freshman All-American.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’
“I really didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until (Monday) morning. It’s pretty good.”
Lewis totaled 24 tackles (13 solo and 11 assists) with 6.5 for loss. He also added 3.5 sacks while playing in all 12 games and starting twice.
Liberty finished the year with a record of 6-6, becoming the ninth team in NCAA history to win six or more games during its first season at the FBS level.
Lewis sets the bar high for himself, which allows plenty of room and motivation to improve.
“(Making it to) the NFL is a very realistic thing, but it’s the best of the best,” Lewis said. “I still have two or three more years to do more than I’ve ever done. I just have to use my teammates. They help me, and I help them.
“I want to get to my max potential, which nobody ever meets. But I have to try to hit that ceiling. It is a realistic goal and a realistic dream. I’m just anxious to see what happens.”
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BALL
Lewis said his college journey to defense was funny in a way.
“My senior year wasn’t the best,” said Lewis. “Everybody knows that. I played the first three games at offensive tackle. I got told all year by multiple people I would never play at the highest level of college football as a defensive lineman. I didn’t listen to them.
“I went to Liberty and they told me I was a defensive lineman. They trusted me.”
Liberty joined the FBS ranks this season, and its first game was against Old Dominion.
“I wasn’t expected to play that much,” Lewis said. “I was only expected to go in on third downs. But I played about 15-16 snaps.”
Lewis made those snaps count, earning a sack in his first collegiate contest.
“I caught up with the pace a lot faster than I thought I would,” he said. “The coaches were happy, and they decided not to redshirt me.”
THE PHYSICAL DIFFERENCE
Lewis said he was behind in the strength game when he entered college. He didn’t start working out in earnest until his senior year in high school.
“I noticed that was my biggest fault,” he said. “Instead of going against what I thought was a big offensive lineman in high school — which is like 6-foot-3, 280 pounds — a big college lineman is 6-6 and about 340. We were seeing that every week.”
Technique-wise, Lewis said he needs to get better with his hands.
“I got better at it as the season progressed,” he said. “It’s completely different from high school. They don’t knock your hands down in high school. But when you play Virginia and Army and Auburn, they knock them down.”
CROCKETT’S SUPERB SEASON
David Crockett’s run to the Class 5A state quarterfinals didn’t escape Lewis’ notice.
“That was awesome,” he said. “It surprised me, and it surprised everybody. I’m happy for them. They deserve it, and I hope they keep it going.”