‘Tubby’ to his teammates, Jameon Lewis waited three years for his opportunity, sitting in the No. 2 position at the slot, watching Chad Bumphis break nearly every receiving record Mississippi State has to offer.
Finally, in 2013, Bumphis was off to the NFL and Lewis was atop the depth chart for the first time in his career, without ever starting a game.
Now, seven games into that season, he’s doing everything he thought he could, if not more.
He leads the Bulldogs in receiving with 446 yards, over double the next person behind him. He’s tops in kick returns, punt returns and all-purpose yards and top-five in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense, all as a slot receiver, though he’s obviously more than just that.
MSU averages 13.9 yards every time he touches the ball on offense, a near-guaranteed first down just for getting him involved.
In a six-game stretch from last year’s Egg Bowl to hosting Troy this season, he scored four different ways, including a kickoff returned for a touchdown.
Just this fall, he’s caught, passed and thrown for touchdowns. In the same game. Twice.
“He’s like one of those guys that’s out there playing backyard football, while everyone else is playing organized,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “He’s just shifty, he’s quick. He’s a football player.”
Prescott would know, having caught two passes from Lewis for touchdowns, while handing and passing him the ball for a bunch more.
But, when Tubby got to Starkville, he was close to none of it ever having a chance to happen. He was a quarterback in high school, the best athlete on his team, but he was recruited as a cornerback to MSU.
In fact, his first workouts with the Bulldogs were on defense.
As often happens, friendly battles can ensue between offensive and defensive coaches for which side of the ball gets a new player. Just a year before, offensive coordinator Les Koenning had lost the fight to get freshman Johnthan Banks as a receiver. Banks went on to become the nation’s top defensive back, winning the Jim Thorpe Award after his senior year.
But when Koenning saw Lewis, who could “do things we’d never seen with the ball in his hands,” he had to have him.
“Of course,” Koenning said with a laugh, reminded of his desire to get Lewis on his side of the ball, though he doesn’t deny Lewis could have been good as a cornerback. “When you watch him, he’s got a great change-of-direction and start-up. He’s really good.”
“You could put him anywhere on the field and he’d be doing just as good as he is now,” freshman cornerback Cedric Jiles said about his teammate.
And it’s Jiles and those defensive teammates who were the first to learn how good Lewis is and how impressive he could be as they watched him and lined up against him in practice.
Sophomore safety Kendrick Market has had the misfortune (and good practice) of trying to cover, tackle and stop Tubby in practice the last two years and change.
“On Saturdays,” he said, “I know how those guys feel. That man got some moves on him.”
Geoff Collins, MSU’s defensive coordinator, would be happy to have Lewis on his side to add his depth in the secondary, but moreso, he’s just happy Tubby is on the same team as him every weekend.
He knows as well as any what it’s like for an opposing coordinator trying to prepare his team for a game against Lewis.
“You better know where that little poot is every play,” Collins said. “He’s really good, he’s dynamic when he gets the ball in his hands, and you can’t fall asleep when you’re on the back end. If you’ve got deep coverage and he’s got the ball, he might throw it, so you’ve gotta make sure you’ve got every part of your defense covered at all times.”
Entering the final stretch of the season, those opposing coaches will have to continue planning for Tubby as he leads MSU’s attack each week.
“We’re really happy to have him on offense,” Koenning said with his big smile.