TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State running back Deantre Lewis wanted so badly to regain his previous form last season he convinced himself and coaches he was there. He proclaimed his confidence to anyone who asked as he tried to earn a role in a crowded backfield.
But Lewis knew he still wasn’t back. His body still wasn’t right even after missing the entire 2011 season recovering from a gunshot injury in his leg.
“I tried to make myself believe I was there,” Lewis said. “But I knew physically it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.”
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Now, another year later, Lewis truly believes he is healthy and has rediscovered the form that made him one of ASU’s most electrifying players in 2010.
“I feel a whole lot different,” Lewis said, beaming. “I feel like my speed is back. I feel like I can get in and out of my cuts and accelerate away from people.
“It feels great to feel like myself again.”
When Lewis says that now, he says it with conviction absent a year ago. He believes it, and his coaches believe it.
The situation is a far cry from the low places Lewis found himself in 2012. A random shooting in the offseason had cost him all of 2011 as his leg healed. He came to fall camp, the first under coach Todd Graham, ready to compete for carries behind returning starter Cameron Marshall but quickly found himself buried on the depth chart behind Marshall, freshman D.J. Foster and junior college transfer Marion Grice.
Lewis saw so little action of offense that ASU eventually decided to try him as a defensive back to add depth to a thin secondary. Lewis was excited about the move at first, hoping to channel residual anger over the shooting into hard hits, but the experiment barely lasted two months.
It all added up to an extraordinarily frustrating season for Lewis. It got to him so much by the end of the year his attitude came under scrutiny.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t play. It was just that I was still physically unable to do the things I used to be able to do. That always put me down because I know deep down inside it was my special talent given to me, and it was taken away for a little bit. It was just frustrating knowing I couldn’t do it.”
Now that his body feels right again, Lewis’s frustrations and anger have dissipated. He’s visibly more at ease and displays confidence on and off the field. Coaches have seen the difference.
“Last year he was questioning his body, he didn’t feel right,” running backs coach Bo Graham said. “I think he’s fought through that. He was one of the best performers this past summer in (strength and conditioning), and right now physically and mentally he’s ready to go.”
Graham said offensive coaches see Lewis as a significant contributor this season. Just how much and in what specific ways he contributes won’t be clear until the season is underway. Grice and Foster remain the primary backs, but it appears Lewis will play a role.
“He’s a big weapon for us, so I see him as a part of the game plan each and every week,” Graham said. “He’s kind of a hybrid between the two. They all have similar skills, but he’s a big-play guy.”
Lewis has frequently exploded for big gains during 11-on-11 practice since the spring. Todd Graham has mentioned him countless times after practices as a player who stood out. If his speed, which made him so dangerous as a freshman, truly has returned, it could be hard for coaches to keep him off the field.
“That’s what I’ve always tried to do — do enough good things that when it comes time to play they don’t have a hard time keeping me in there,” Lewis said.
Lewis is confident with 80-plus offensive plays per game that he’ll get his share of carries behind Grice and Foster. And with enough success this season, he could be poised for an even greater role next year when Grice will have graduated.
At the very least, Lewis gives ASU another offensive weapon, even if only for a few plays per game.
For now, Lewis isn’t concerning himself with how many carries he’ll get. He’s just happy to be able to say he’s back and believe it.