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Boomer Bio: Ronnell Lewis
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Strong bowl effort sets stage for linebacker Ronnell Lewis' future
Ronnell Lewis tends to leave quite a first impression.
Just ask Kansas star Dezmon Brisco. Or maybe check with Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart or his Stanford teammate Michael Thomas.
In what amounted to a limited amount of playing time this football season — mostly on special teams and some spot duty at linebacker — Lewis turned more than a few heads, or maybe cracked more than a few heads is a better way to put it.
Along the way, the true freshman earned the nickname “The Hammer,” and became another reason why Oklahoma football fans are already counting the days until the 2010 season kicks off.
“He has so much power and explosiveness. He’s a young guy, he’s just unusual how powerful he is and the way he can run,” said OU coach Bob Stoops after witnessing Lewis’ first collegiate start at linebacker against Stanford in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.
“He’s got a chance to be a special player.”
Against Stanford, Lewis recorded six tackles, forced a fumble and also broke up one pass. Sounds like a modest enough effort, but a closer look reveals an even greater impact.
Lewis helped set the tone for the game — at least from a physical standpoint — when he buried Thomas with a bruising hit on OU’s first kickoff of the contest. His greatest impact, however, came during the four occasions he met Gerhart face-to-face — resulting in one fumble and gains of 2, 0 and 2 yards.
“That was fun. To play against (Gerhart) who almost won the Heisman in a bowl situation like that — I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity, so I went out there and played my heart out,” explained Lewis, who first garnered some attention when he leveled Brisco on a kickoff return that briefly knocked the Jayhawks’ receiver out of game — which turned into a 35-13 OU road win.
And the big hits just kept on coming, as Lewis led the Sooners in special teams tackles for the season and eventually earned the start against Stanford.
“Honestly, I believe Ronnell has a chance to be as good as any player we’ve had here on defense. That’s the type of ability he has,” said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “He’s the kind of kid who we feel is going to put in the work and make the sacrifices necessary to make that happen. If he does those things, he has a chance to have a big future at Oklahoma.”
One hurdle Lewis is dealing with in the midst of learning how to play Division-I football is the fact he has been diagnosed with the Sickle Cell Trait, a blood disorder that can at times effect his ability to work out at a high level and can also be dangerous if not monitored. And since Lewis is known for his insatiable work ethic, he knows he must be smart about his training routines.
“I’ve just had to learn to deal with it. I’m always going to work hard, but I just have to be smart about how I do it at times,” explained Lewis, a first-team All-State selection as a running back and linebacker for tiny Dewar (Okla.) High School.
Even though critics felt like Lewis might be a longshot to make a real impact at the D-I level — mainly because he honed his skill playing eight-man football — there was never a doubt where his prep coach was concerned.
“Besides the obvious things like his incredible strength and speed, Ronnell has a lot of other intangibles that put him on a completely different level than most other high school football players anywhere,” said Dewar coach Josh Been. “His work ethic is incredible and he has great character. On top of that, he has no fear.
“He’s the kind of player who will hit you in the mouth no matter who he’s going up against.”
Lewis demonstrated that physicality on more than one occasion during his rookie season. But it was what he did every day in practice that he took the most pride from.
“It was a great opportunity to contribute on special teams and get my first start in the bowl game. I worked really hard all season to show the coaches and the upperclassmen that I was willing to do whatever it takes to earn that chance,” added Lewis.
In the meantime, “The Hammer” was busy earning that nickname. If opposing teams aren’t familiar with it just yet, just wait until next fall when Lewis is pounding away on anyone who gets in his path.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the Jan.-Feb. 2010 issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more, call toll free to subscribe at 1-877-841-8877)