BOWL COVERAGE: Lewis shows senior leadership through adversity for LA Tech

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SHREVEPORT — Louisiana Tech senior defensive back Darryl Lewis is quiet by nature.

In fact as a little boy, Darryl said his mother was concerned.

“When I was a little kid, my mom told me they weren’t sure if I had something wrong with me. I never talked,” said Darryl. “I always just sat there quietly.”

Even now, the fifth-year senior for the Bulldogs isn’t overly talkative. Instead, he lets his play on the field do most of his talking for him.

That work ethic on the practice field, in the film room and in the classroom is what Bulldog head coach Skip Holtz said has allowed Darryl to become one of the true team leaders in 2019.

“Everyone on this team respects Darryl Lewis because of the way that he works,” said Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “If you said ‘who is one of the hardest workers on this football team,’ a large percentage would say it is Darryl Lewis.

“He is very soft spoken. He is not rah rah. He is not a cheerleader. He is not trying to get the crowd going. He is not that type of leader. But when he gets up and speaks, it is like EF Hutton … everybody listens.”

Darryl has always handled adversity in the same way. He just works that much harder.

His road to Louisiana Tech wasn’t the typical one for many college athletes.

A three-sport athlete (football, basketball, track and field) at Lusher High School in New Orleans, Darryl didn’t even consider athletics a priority as a little boy. He had other interests.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be in a band and be a drum major,” said Darryl. “I was not into sports yet. In New Orleans, music is a big part of the culture. I had a trumpet and a drum set at my grandmother’s house.

“After music I got into drawing a little bit and writing. I used to be in a creative writing class. I really like poetry. It is something different. It is peaceful and calming to me.”

The calm before the storm.

In 2005, Darryl and his family along with tens of thousands were forced to evacuate as Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast on August 29. Darryl and his family moved to Rosedale, Louisiana for two months before eventually moving back to the Big Easy.

“My family and I evacuated from New Orleans,” said Darryl. “I was eight years old. My birthday had just passed. I was starting third grade. I had just gotten my textbook covers. We had to leave. My grandmother was living uptown and my mom was living on the east side of New Orleans. My grandmother’s house had about 7 to 8 feet of water in it. That is where all of my toys were as a kid.”

His mother Sandra Oliver worked for the city of New Orleans and Darryl and his family lived for three months on a cruise ship named The Fantasy while the city began its cleanup.

Fast forward to Darryl’s high school career at Lusher, a school that rose during the rebuild of New Orleans following Katrina.

“That high school was not a high school before Hurricane Katrina,” said Darryl. “It was only K through sixth grade. After Katrina they made it a K through 12 with 6 through 12 on the same campus. I began attending Lusher in seventh grade. I did not start playing football until the eighth grade.

“But the school itself is mostly academic. We were always No. 1 or No. 2 in the state as far as academics. We have had people go to places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton. It is basically a school that puts you in position to do anything you want career-wise. It sets you up early. It is not really known for sports although we have had some folks who have played in college.”

Despite leading Lusher in tackles as a junior and senior and earning the district MVP honor his final season, Division I offers were not exactly rolling in for Darryl. However, Louisiana Tech came calling, setting up the next chapter in what Darryl calls “a journey.”

“Originally I knew nothing about Louisiana Tech,” said Darryl. “I did not find out about Tech until the spring of my senior season. I had gone to a Rivals camp that was at East Jefferson and I did an interview with Jonathan Ford (of BleedTechBlue). He asked me if I knew about Tech. That was the first time I ever heard about Louisiana Tech.

“Coach (Blake) Baker actually came to my high school. He was the very first person to come to my high school to recruit me. Coach Karl Scott was the DC at Southeastern Louisiana at the same time and he was recruiting me. He happened to end up at Louisiana Tech as the safeties coach. When I came on my unofficial visit, both guys were in the room. I just felt like it was meant to be.”

Darryl chose to walk-on at Tech over signing a scholarship to play for Division II Missouri Southern State in Joplin.

After a red-shirt season in 2015, Darryl saw action in 14 games in 2016 mostly on special teams, making 19 tackles.

“Here is a guy who came in as a walk-on, caught everyone’s attention because of his work ethic,” said Holtz. “First one out on the field, last one to leave. On every special team. On every scout team. He was just incredible in the way that he worked. The early part of his career he became a part of our Dirty Dozen. He was a core member of our special teams and earned a scholarship here. That wasn’t the end of his dream.”

2017 and 2018 saw him start 26 games for the Bulldogs, making 111 tackles and recording six interceptions. He earned a scholarship following the 2017 season.

The stage was set for a big senior season for Darryl. But his senior season got off to an unexpected start – or non-start – as Darryl found himself in a back-up role as redshirt freshman BJ Williamson beat him out for opening nod against Texas.

“They battled,” said Tech defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. “We play a lot of guys the way we do our business. He just went to work. He went to work. BJ beat him out fair and square in the practices leading up to that moment. D Lew didn’t pout. He didn’t act like a baby. He worked at the game. He studied more. Drilled down on the defense. He went to practice with a purpose and grinded to get his position back. He just did a fantastic job.”

Despite losing the starting position battle, Darryl stayed positive.

“I did not want to get down,” said Darryl. “That was not something that would be good for the team, especially me being in a leadership position. I really just said I was going to support him and be there for him. He was inexperienced but he was doing something right on the field to earn the starting position. I was going to support him fully and help him.”

“That’s true,” said Diaco. “100 percent. From what I’ve seen from him this year – I’m sure he has always been like this – D Lew always puts the team first. The betterment of the team and anything the team needs, he is down with. The team is first and he is second.”

“First class all the way,” said Tech linebackers coach Brian Gamble. “That kind of lends itself to his ability as a leader and a great teammate. He immediately asked what else he could do for the team if he wasn’t in a starting role. A lot of guys will hang their heads and give in a little bit but it made him work even harder. It’s a position he has been in as a walk-on and he knew how to take care of his business and just keep grinding. The results showed.”

Darryl continued to work, recording 12 tackles in the first four games of the season, many of them as part of the Bulldog special teams units.

“I love the way that he has handled the adversity that he handled this year when he was beat out early in the season,” said Holtz. “He went back to getting on every special team again; went back to his roots so-to-speak. Really just wouldn’t go away and earned that starting position back. I can’t say enough about how hard he works. His perseverance. His leadership. I wish they were all like Darryl Lewis.”

Darryl returned to the starting lineup in the fifth game of the season against the Rice Owls and wasted little time in making the most of the moment. With the Bulldogs trailing 14-7 and Rice threatening to add another TD right before the half, Darryl intercepted his first pass of the year in the end zone to sniff out the threat. The play changed the complexion of the game that Tech eventually won 23-20 in overtime.

It was just the start of big plays made by Darryl during the Bulldogs eight-game winning streak. In Tech’s 45-31 win over Southern Miss a few weeks later, he made a momentum changing play on a busted punt by the Golden Eagles when it appeared Southern Miss would pick up a crucial first down in a one-score game.

“They say bigtime players make bigtime plays in bigtime moments,” said Darryl. “As far as the Rice game, he threw it to me. I did not expect him to throw it. I saw him and he did not see me. With the Southern Miss play, I think it was just meant for me to make that play. There was no rhyme or reason. Something told me to turn my head during the play because I heard the crowd. I did and saw the punter was running with the ball.”

Holtz said Darryl’s ability to make those types of plays isn’t by coincidence.

“It’s amazing how luck always seems to find those guys that really work hard,” said Holtz. “That wasn’t even his play against Southern Miss on the bobbled punt. He is on the inside in the A gap and has the guard. He doesn’t even have edge responsibility. You talk about his awareness, his understanding, all the hours of coming in and watching film.

“He is just a heady, smart football player. Those are the things that impress you so much about him. Those guys that work at it, that always watch film, that are in the right place at the right time are the guys that seem to work the hardest to get there.”

Darryl, who earned his bachelor’s degree in sports marketing this past summer, will be leading the Bulldogs into Thursday’s match-up against Miami in the Walk-on’s Independence Bowl. It will be his last opportunity to represent the Bulldogs, something he has done in a first class manner over the past five years.

“In one word I would describe it as a journey,” said Darryl. “It has been a lot of everything. I have had a lot of love. I have had a lot of fear. Nerves. Excitement. Happiness. Heartbreak. It is been up, down, right, left, upside down, backwards. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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