Humbled Lewis trying to reclaim top job

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
3:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Kellen Lewis learned during his suspension that you can't take anything for granted.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Kellen Lewis learned a lot about himself while he sat at home serving a suspension from the Indiana football team.

According to message boards and other "media" sources, Lewis had a social schedule that put Lindsay and Britney to shame. Reports placed the Hoosiers quarterback at bars, clubs, jail cells and different cities around the state. One rumor particularly got under his skin.

"One of the message boards said that I was trafficking cocaine and all sorts of other drugs from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne and back to Bloomington," Lewis said. "I just wanted to clear the air."

Lewis finally got the chance this week. The second-team All-Big Ten selection explained the saga behind his suspension: how he lost his focus after last season, how he bought into his own hype, how he came late to team meetings and skipped classes, how he slipped into "the world of Kellen Lewis."

Having the chance to compete for the starting job with Ben Chappell during camp has been therapeutic. So was setting things straight about the last six months.

"I went from going out and partying it out every night and everyone saw me, to the next two months, 'We can't even find him, so he must have committed a crime. Maybe he's in jail,'" Lewis said. "After I got suspended, I went into a state of depression. I turned off my phone and didn't talk to anybody. I wouldn't talk to my friends, parents, anybody."

Lewis' problems started shortly after Indiana's trip to the Insight Bowl, the program's first postseason appearance since 1993. He had a stellar sophomore season, leading the Big Ten in touchdowns accounted for with 37 (28 passing, 9 rushing), racking up 3,043 passing yards and setting several school records.

In Lewis' mind, such a season gave him the license to do as he pleased.

"My whole life was out of whack," he said. "People started focusing on, 'If you're not in there, we don't win half those games.' I just started believing my own pub. 'Well, if that's what everyone else things, there's no way in the world they're going to suspend me because they need me next year.'

"You're talking about in one day, I'm not showing up to practice, don't go to dinner, late for the [weight] lift, don't show up for 7-on-7's, the coaches couldn't get a hold of me for three days."

Head coach Bill Lynch called Lewis into his office to address the situation, telling the quarterback what he needed to do to fix things. Lewis didn't comply and was suspended.

Rather than begin the road to redemption, Lewis became a recluse, sitting at home all day, not attending classes, "having my own little pity party." Lynch called him in again before the summer and wrote out specific guidelines to follow for possible reinstatement.

"When I had to go in and lift, be five minutes early," Lewis recalled. "I had class checkups for all my classes during the summer, which is something I wasn't accustomed to because generally, summer classes are supposed to be easy. Everyday things that you didn't need to have someone check up on you, I had someone check on me."

This time, he followed through and made it back on the roster. Lewis thought he would be asked to explain the suspension following Indiana's first practice but wasn't pressed about it until Monday.

"He's been hiding inside, been struggling with it the last couple months," wide receiver Andrew Means said. "But to get out there and talk about it a little bit and let other people know that he's ready to play football again and that's in the past, he's ready to move on. I think he's a new person because of it."

Indiana hopes Lewis is the same player, but he missed all of spring practice, as the team worked in the no-huddle offense. Chappell took advantage of the extra snaps he received this spring and outperformed Lewis in Saturday's scrimmage, but the race remains close.

"He's had enough of all the extra stuff," Chappell said of Lewis. "He's ready to go and just wants to get out there."

The competition has only reinforced a lesson Lewis learned throughout the spring and summer: nothing can be taken for granted.

"Stay humble," he said. "No matter how much pub you get, unless your name is Michael Jordan and you've got six rings, there's always someone better than you. You need to stay focused on what you need to do, which is something that got away from me."

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