Most in his situation would have given up. But after missing two and a half seasons after undergoing five surgeries between both knees, offensive lineman Corey Lewis returned to the field last week for the Illini at Ohio State. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder from Cresco, Pa., is a favorite among teammates and coaches for his work ethic and engaging personality and he’ll continue his comeback today against the Golden Gophers.
How much fun was last Saturday? It was fun, just getting back out there. The losing part wasn’t fun, but just being out there and making progress was great.
Glenn Foster just joked that you’ve been here since the Ron Turner era, do you get that stuff a lot? Glenn thinks he’s a funny guy, but he’s not that funny. I get that stuff all the time, like ‘You’ve been on the all-decade team,” stuff like that from guys who think they’re hilarious.
You’ve stood on the sideline for two years and watched games, how do you pass the time? I continue to try to bring my veteran knowledge and just things that I’ve seen. I’ve been around Jeff Allen, Jack Cornell, Jon Asamoah, guys who have been around and played at the next level. I do know the game, I was decent in my day when I did play back in ‘09, so I try to give some input, not too much. I just tell the guys little things, motivate them and keep the morale up.
The last game you played in was 2009 against Fresno State. How crazy was that game? It was wild. It was cold. Got to watch a great player like Ryan Mathews run around, saw an offensive lineman catch the two-point conversion to win the game. That was nuts.
Have you ever had a moment like that, catching a pass? I was fortunate to play defense and I got an interception once in high school. I didn’t get my hands on the ball much besides that.
So, you’ve always been a lineman? Yeah. I didn’t play football until my freshman year of high school and I played tight end my freshman year, then moved to left tackle. My hands weren’t that good, so that’s probably why they moved me. I’ll say my hands were mediocre.
What was the lowest point for you these past two years? Probably the most recent time I had to have surgery, in March, because that put this season in jeopardy and that would have been unfortunate because it would have been the third straight season. I just said I’m going to work hard and make sure I get back out there and that’s why I’m here right now.
Who’s been your biggest supporter through all of this? My family has obviously been there for me through it all. Coach (Luke) Butkus has been a big supporter of me. He knows what I can do, he’s seen me and he knew from my old coaches what I could do. He’s always calling me when I go home to see my doctors. He coaches me just like anyone else. He doesn’t take any sympathy on me because of my knees. He knows what I’m capable of and wants to see me get back to that level.
Have you heard from your old Illinois coaches since you’ve been back? Oh, yeah. Coach (DeAndre) Smith, Coach (Joe) Gilbert, Coach (Ron) Zook, Coach (Eric) Wolford, my first O-line coach. They all reached out to me and are very happy for me and they’re glad to see me out there. It means a lot because in the coaching business it’s hard to even speak with your family at times because you’re here so much and for them to take the time to know what I’m doing in my life and how far I’ve come shows they really care about me. Zook was my guy, he’s the reason I came here and I know he cares about me a lot. He always told me I was like a son.
What are you hoping to do when your playing days are done? Hopefully it’s a couple of years away. Right now, I’m working on my masters, I plan to be working in an athletic department somewhere, doing something with sports. Hopefully that works out for me, that’s why I’m getting my masters in sports administration. My main goal is to become an athletic director for some type of major university.
Is pro football something you still think about? Yeah, any time you play football at this level, that should always be in the back of your mind. It’s always possible if you work hard and perfect your craft.
The other offensive linemen say you’re the ladies man of the unit. Is that true? Of course, that’s true. I like to be a smooth, calm and collected guy. I’m unique in my approach. I got that from my brother. I’m single right now.
Was anyone close to you affected by Sandy? No, not physically. My dad’s car had some damage, it was totaled. The business he’s working with, he’s a plumber, the gas situation hurt them. My mother was evacuated from where she lives. We’ve got a lot of damage up there and it’s been tough.
How tough is it to watch the coverage on TV and not be there to help your family? It was very tough even though I hardly get to watch much TV. It was hard to get in touch with my mom because all the power was out and the phones weren’t working. I didn’t know the severity of it because that kind of storm just doesn’t happen there. When she told me what was going on, I was shocked. I call her before practice, after practice, before and after meetings and the coaches allowed me to take some time to do that and make sure they were all right.
Is it tough being a grad student and a full-time athlete? I think it’s actually easier because grad school focuses more on one concentration. When you’re an undergrad, you’ve got like five classes. In grad school, you’ve got like two or three. They’re long classes, but they focus on one area. It’s not as broad like taking general classes. There’s more reading, but it’s about the same if not easier.
Who’s your NFL team? The Giants. The Super Bowl champs.
Are they going to do it again? I think they can. We had a tough loss last week. The Giants aren’t the best regular season team, but Eli can turn it on. He’s one of the best postseason performers in the game.
So, no Jets? No, definitely no Jets. The guys always joke around with me when the Jets lose saying I’m a Jets fan, but I don’t know when I ever was a Jets fan. I’ve always been a Giants fan.