It’s almost hard to believe, but last week against New Mexico State was Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis’ first start at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

He’s had playing time since his freshman year, but Lewis, now a senior, has missed out on a starting role with the Crimson Tide through a series of unfortunate events.

Everyone familiar with Crimson Tide football knows Lewis’ story. He played in 11 games as a freshman and was poised for a breakout sophomore season in 2017 when he suffered an injury in the season opener against Florida State. He missed 10 games before coming back to play in Alabama’s last four games, including the national title win against Georgia (Lewis sacked Jake Fromm on a key third-down play to force a Bulldogs field goal in overtime).

In 2018 Lewis was again poised for a breakout season and again an injury kept him off the field, this time a torn ACL. He missed the entire season.

So last week, when he got to start against the Aggies, Lewis soaked everything in and didn’t waste the opportunity. He didn’t register any eye-popping stats — two tackles, including one for a loss — but just being on the field was enough.

“Just being out there and to be able to play against somebody else on a consistent basis, it’s a amazing. It’s a blessing,” Lewis said. “You can’t really complain about the cards you’re dealt. You just have to work through it. God has something planned on the other side. I just focused on getting back on the field.”

There were some dark times for Lewis during those days of recovering from his injuries. Sure it was tough rehabbing and not being able to get on the field. But what really gnawed at him, what really set Lewis off, was players around him not appreciating what they have.

“Watching practice and games over and over again and you see guys not putting forth the full effort,” Lewis said. “You never know when it’s going to be your last play. Those are the darkest times, when you see somebody else taking the game for granted or not cherishing the fact they get to be out here. Guys get to play football and they complain about external elements like, ‘It’s hot, I don’t feel like practicing.’ They don’t even realize that if I could be out there I would love to.

“It was definitely a lot of dark times. It made me sit back and be patient and really focus on, ‘OK, how can I get better at this time instead of just moping?”

It’s just two games into the season but Lewis said he does feel he’s gotten better despite missing so much time. It’s still a “work in progress” and some improvements need to be made, but Lewis said he’ll get back to tip-top playing form with some more games under his belt.

This weekend’s SEC opener in Columbia, against South Carolina, will be a challenge for Lewis and the Crimson Tide defense. Freshman Ryan Hilinski takes over at quarterback for the Gamecocks. Alabama was anticipating seeing Jake Bentley, who left last week’s Ole Miss game with an injury.

No matter, Lewis said. He said he feels Alabama’s pass rush is up to the task and has done a fair job so far this season of making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket.

“Whether it’s getting a sack, getting a hit on him, putting on pressure, affecting his throw or just making him throw the ball away, I think we’ve done a good job of making our presence felt,” Lewis said.

The fact that it’s a road game doesn’t bother Lewis either. In fact, he prefers it that way.

“I love road games,” he said. “The crowd is always hyped and you can sense when the energy changes as you keep beating them. It’s loud and then you get to see people get quiet.

“It’s fun. It means you dominated your opponent.”

Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, edwin.stanton@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2

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