Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series’ if you will, and we start this week with Rising Stars: names you need to know before the season starts. Some of these will be more obvious than others, but the goal will be to single out the players you may not have heard of or who have yet to make a big name for themselves on the field, in no particular order, who will be stars by late November.
Today’s Rising Star: sophomore receiver Jameon “Tubby” Lewis. It’s easy to forget, but he was a quarterback in high school and was actually recruited to Mississippi State as a defensive back. Obviously, that’s a transition, and he is still young.
Some of the picks in this Rising Stars series may be less popular than others, but I get the impression the Tubby bandwagon is full to the brim, thanks his to performance in the Maroon-White spring game. On a 60(ish)-yard field, Lewis managed to catch 10 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown – a 40-yarder from Tyler Russell, which naturally got the locals pretty excited.
I’ll make both a claim and an admission right now: I’ve been expecting big things from Lewis since the first time I saw him on campus as a true freshman in fall camp. In the words of hipsters of everywhere, “I liked him before everyone knew who he was!”
Last August, I claimed him as “My boy,” having seen how lightning quick he was and what he can do with the ball in his hands throughout fall camp and the spring practices a few months prior. I once saw a fantasy football writer talk about “flag players,” a player he put his flag on and said “This one is mine, and he will have a big year. I will then claim credit for calling it when he does.” Something like an astronaut putting a flag on the moon, or Christopher Columbus planting a flag on American soil as the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria dropped their anchors.
Lewis was (and still is) my flag player, so you can imagine my excitement when the high-flying speedster caught four passes for 113 yards and one touchdown in the season-opener against Memphis last year (plus two rushes for 29 yards and another touchdown), not an entirely dissimilar stat line to this year’s spring game. But it was what happened in between those two outings that kept Lewis from rising to stardom in 2011.
Frankly, he couldn’t hold on to the ball. Passes, punts, kicks, they all seemed to give him trouble. This is the part where I look silly, because my observation in practices had been that Lewis had tremendous hands, regularly making acrobatic catches over-the-shoulders and around defenders. While I whiffed on saying “he has sticky hands,” it is a good sign for Lewis himself. Clearly, the ability is there, and unless I missed it, he never dropped a pass in all of the spring practices that he should have caught. I’d imagine it means the drops in games were mental, not a lack of ability, which is encouraging for both his immediate and distant future. Concentration, nerves, those things can be fixed. Talent, while it can be developed, obviously can’t appear from nowhere. It’s a fixable problem, and it may have already been taken care of.
After that monster first game, Lewis only caught three more passes the rest of the year. He did, however, finish the season as the surprising leader in one category: yards per rush. He only had 11 carries, but he averaged 7.8 yards every time he got the ball out of the backfield, nearly a full yard more than the next closest player. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say Lewis is, by far, the most dangerous player MSU has in the “Wildcat” formation.
When the season comes, the only person who can hold Lewis back is himself. If he proves to the coaches that they can trust him to hold onto the ball – and block, of course – he can be Dan Mullen’s most electric weapon and someone opposing defensive coordinators will have fits over.
Plus, his hair is really cool.