Teammate on Cajuns quarterback Lewis: 'It is his team'
When the Ragin’ Cajuns opened their 2019 preseason camp on Friday, they did so with a quarterback who seems to have won over his team long before August rolled around.
Levi Lewis appeared in four games as a true freshman in 2017, starting three late in the year.
Last season, he played in every fourth series of each game as the backup to then-senior-starter Andre Nunez.
Now, however, the junior from Scotlandville Magnet High in Baton Rouge is the only quarterback on UL’s roster who’s actually played in an NCAA Division I game — and he has the backing of teammates who clearly support him.
“It is his team,” senior offensive guard Kevin Dotson said during UL’s Media Day on Thursday. “I really say this is his team, because he is the alpha leader, I believe.”
It’s the way Lewis carries himself that has teammates buying in.
“When Levi first came in, when I first just watched him at (offseason training activities) that first time, I said, ‘That dude is special,’” senior receiver Jarrod “Bam” Jackson said.
“And I told him to his face. I said, ‘Man, you’ve got it. And you know what "it" is. So all you’ve got to do is keep growing and developing, man. That’s all you’ve got to do. And stay humble.’
“And that is one of the one of the most-humble dudes I know,” Jackson added. “He goes about everything the right way. … He puts in the work; he puts in extra work; he helps others along the way.”
Jackson said he and Lewis talk all the time about things like coverages, route concepts and audibles.
“He’s grown a lot, man — as a football player and as a person,” Jackson said. “The dude is locked in. Whenever we’re out there, he is … no nonsense, all business.
“When it’s time to play, he’ll play. But when it’s time to go, and time to strap it on, and time to be locked in, he’s locked in.
“And he cares about the little things too,” Jackson added. “He’ll ask me, ‘Tell me what you saw. Why are you running your route like this? Tell me why.' It’s just that ‘it’ factor, and that can change the whole dynamic of an offense.”
'ON THE SAME PAGE'
This offseason — after a 7-7 year that ended with a regular season-ending win at UL Monroe and a Sun Belt Conference West Division title, followed by losses to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship game and to Tulane in the Cure Bowl — Lewis made a point of pulling his teammates together.
At times, he texted them.
But he also talked to them, on and off the field, and actually interacted face-to-face, something sorely lacking in this modern age of Twitter and Instagram.
“I think that’s the best thing when it comes to coming together as a team — communication,” Lewis said Thursday. “We’re all on the same page … just talking, just communicating, all on the same level.”
Second-season UL head coach Billy Napier took notice, and praised Lewis on Thursday for the way he “attacked” the offseason.
“He’s always been a really good athlete. He’s always had plenty of arm talent,” Napier said. “And he’s always been one of the most-respected players on the entire team.
“You take those things, and then now we have had a year to kind of study and adapt to maybe some things we can do to feature him.
“I’m really pleased with Levi, and certainly he had a great summer,” Napier added. “He took ownership of our team. … He’s better, and he’s gonna keep getting better.”
'COMPETITION AROUND HIM'
As much as the Cajuns are counting on Lewis to continue to develop, they know he is by no means the only quarterback on their roster.
“He’s got competition around him,” Napier said, “and it always makes us better.”
UL offensive coordinator Rob Sale said Lewis brings “another dimension” to an offense that returns standout running backs Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais Jr.; has both Johnny Lumpkin and Chase Rogers back at tight end; returns receivers Jackson and Ja’Marcus Bradley; and, when the season starts Aug. 31 against Mississippi State in New Orleans, will be missing only injured center Cole Prudhomme from the same starting offensive line it had last year.
“Looking from a quarterback’s position,” Sale said, “it’s good to be good around him.
“I feel like we have a pretty good offensive line. Tight ends are deep. Our running backs — we have four, five guys that can do it. So we’re strong in all the areas around the quarterback.
“Now,” Sale said, “we’ve just got to get a quarterback to make plays or do his deal, which we feel we have a couple guys that can do that.”
The Cajuns have two true freshmen scholarship QBs in camp — Chandler Field, whom Napier previously said has created “a buzz amongst our players with his ability and his work ethic, his leadership,” and Clifton McDowell, who was in early for spring drills.
Napier on Thursday said UL has submitted a waiver request that would allow ex-Maryland redshirt QB Brayden Hawkins to play this season rather than sit out a year, and that the Cajuns are waiting for a ruling on that.
But the quarterback who emerged from spring practice as the leader of the pack behind Lewis is Jai’ave Magalei, a juco transfer who sat out all of last season due to major knee surgery.
“Jai’avi, he’s phenomenal,” o-lineman Dotson said. “I’ve seen him throw an 80-yard bomb.
“He’s strong; he’s fast. He’s getting back off an injury, but he came back strong with it. I’m really seeing a quarterback with new legs.”
'IT'S JUST A FEELING'
How much Magalei plays this year remains to be seen.
For now, with camp just underway, it’s all about Lewis, who can sense that his teammates believe in him.
“It’s just a feeling,” he said.
Words help too.
“I think Levi is ready, man. He works hard,” center Shane Vallot said. “He’s the leader of this team. He’s a guy I’m ready to see in action.
“He’s ready to roll, and I’m excited to see what he’s gonna do this year.”
At 5-foot-11, the height might be lacking.
The experience a little too.
But Lewis’ knack for leadership is what makes the biggest impression on those around him, and for now the Cajuns are banking on it being a difference-maker.
“Everything he does is a leadership mentality. It’s not fake,” Dotson added. “You can tell when he’s genuine — and he’s always genuine. I never heard him say anything fake. I’ve never heard him talk bad.”
“He came in a freshman leader, and he’s still the same guy he was,” Vallot added. “That’s what we can trust in, and we believe in, because we know this guy’s a leader.”