The Miami Hurricanes senior with the Abe Lincoln beard, infectious attitude, huge heart and steady stream of Twitter inspiration, will play his final college football game Saturday at Duke.
He won’t start. He won’t end up the hero. But guard Jeremy Lewis — father, son and twin brother — is nonetheless one of the proudest, most respected Hurricanes.
“He’s not afraid to hold his teammates accountable, and I’m really proud of him,” UM coach Al Golden said Tuesday. “Jeremy Lewis has made tremendous progress as a player and a leader. I wish we had another year with him.”
Lewis, a 6-4, 312-pound fifth-year senior, came to UM in 2008 as a four-star defensive end from Palm Beach Lakes High. But he wasn’t in condition, lacked guidance and played sparingly. The arrival of Golden before the 2011 season, and Lewis’ switch from defense to offense is what changed his life, he said.
“Coach Golden came to this program, and everything wasn’t right,” Lewis said. “He kept his word with everything and has tried to turn things around and help young guys mature. I have nothing bad to say about him.
“I’ve tried to stay focused because it’s easy to go negative. I just want to enjoy my little time left here and cherish it. I’ll put the rest in God’s hands.”
Lewis, who has competed in about 180 plays in eight games this season behind starters Jon Feliciano and Brandon Linder, savors the feeling of being “like a bull in the ring. I like the close contact we have with defensive tackles.”
Offensive line coach Art Kehoe, Golden and Hurricanes players have been inspired by Lewis, who reprimands teammates when they need it, then nudges them to go beyond self-imposed limits — even when his role, which includes being part of the “Pride Wall” (for punts) special teams unit, has always been secondary.
“He really put his heart and soul into it this season and has come out of nowhere,” Kehoe said. “He lost some weight, studied the film and has gotten a lot better.
“In our team meeting he told our players repeatedly: ‘This thing seems like it’s forever, but it’s gone so fast. My experience here is finished. I want you guys to know you can’t waste time. You can’t be unaccountable.’
“It has been beautiful to watch.”
Quarterback Stephen Morris called Lewis a fighter who never gives up on himself, even if others have.
“J-Lew is a light to be around,” Morris said.
Lewis’ light, the lineman said, is his 3-year-old daughter, Jaida, who lives with her mom in Lake Worth and sees Lewis often.
“She’s my princess,” he said. “Every decision I make, every choice I make, everything I do is with my daughter in mind.”
Lewis is also a big fan of his single mother, professional caregiver Lillian Lewis, about whom he often tweets. He is one of eight children (four boys and four girls), who include two sets of fraternal twins.
Jeremy was born Feb. 1, 1990, a few minutes before his twin sister Jasmine was born. There are also twins Robin and Ryan, 18.
Lewis became the first person in his family to earn a college degree (liberal arts) in May.
“I didn’t grow up rich,” he said. “My mother always did the best for our kids, always kept a roof over our heads. To be honest, coming from where I grew up, and just knowing my mom sleeps well every night knowing her son is in college doing something positive and being part of this great program, has been a blessing.
“I just want to be successful. I’m going to be emotional [Saturday], and I’m going to be thankful.”
When asked about his dream for the future, Lewis said he has not given up on playing football at the next level.
“I believe in God ... and after this I’m going to continue to train and pray and hope I get a shot.”
One of his recent posts on Twitter: “Don’t have much, but it’s in my heart to do, so when I’m done with classes N meetings tonight ima go buy 3 turkeys and give it to [who’s] in need.”