LINCOLN — Young and not knowing any better, Alex Lewis assumed Dan Hawkins would be the only coach he would know when he signed with Colorado in 2010.
Lewis wasn’t even close.
The last 5½ years have been a cautionary tale in how little you control — and that sometimes you just need to surrender to it.
“It’s something that I learned, that there always is going to be change, whether it’s good or bad,” the Nebraska offensive tackle said. “And you’ve just got to move forward with a positive attitude.”
That is what Lewis is carrying into his senior season. Mike Riley is his fifth head coach, and Mike Cavanaugh is his latest position coach.
Buy-in from Lewis is important to the Huskers’ success. He started all 13 games last season at left tackle, and was poised to be the leader of the NU offensive line in 2015.
“You’ve got to put your ego aside,” he said, “and you’ve got to put yourself on the line for the team.”
The son of former Husker center Bill Lewis has lived through quite the chain of events since coming out of Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix, including one by his own doing.
Hawkins was let go at CU after Alex Lewis spent his first semester on campus as a grayshirt without a scholarship. Lewis then played two seasons under Jon Embree before Embree was replaced by Mike MacIntyre, though Lewis didn’t practice with MacIntyre that spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Lewis came back from a legal issue and a season off to play in 2014 at Nebraska with Bo Pelini, only to find out he would go through one more staff change.
“All throughout my college career I’ve had a new coach,” Lewis said. “So something I picked up is that it’s something I had to do, and something I had to get used to, and if I want to try to take it to the next level I’m going to have to be able to do that, too.
“The NFL stands for ‘not for long,’ so that’s something I’ve got to realize, and I’ve got to be able to adapt and change. And if you’re not you’re regressing, and that’s something you don’t want to do.”
Riley and Lewis’ teammates saw enough in Lewis’ attitude and commitment through the winter and spring to make him one of six co-captains this season. Lewis said he has enjoyed getting to know Cavanaugh, too, and to share thoughts and ideas with him.
There’s still a lot more to do in a short time, and it started Thursday night with the first of 28 preseason practices.
“We’re still moving forward. We’re still progressing when it comes to relationships with the coaches,” Lewis said. “Especially when camp comes around — when you’re spending the majority of your day with that coach, with the offensive coordinator (Danny Langsdorf), with the head coach — I mean, your relationship gets even stronger. The bond that we have now is great, and it’s only going to get better.”
Lewis admitted he may not have handled change as well in the past. Fought it even. And it would have been easy to do the same last winter, considering Pelini had been willing to take a chance on him in 2013.
“As a young guy I was real immature,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t a man yet, and it definitely hurt me.”
The 2013 incident before leaving Boulder resulted in jail time for misdemeanor assault. Lewis said he was “in a dark place.” That has made becoming a co-captain that much more special.
The comeback started last season with both his play and his selection to the Academic All-Big Ten team.
“When you’re going through something so tough like that, it’s hard to look so far down the road,” Lewis said. “You’ve just got to take one day at a time. It’s hard to walk the straight and narrow, especially when I was going down the wrong path.
“But now I’m ready to rock and roll, that’s behind me, and there’s nothing in front of me to stop me from excelling.”
Lewis sees the same for this team — even with a coaching change — and voiced high expectations when asked what might be a realistic outcome to this first season under Riley.
“Diamonds on my finger,” Lewis said. “That’s what I want. That’s why I came to Nebraska. I came here to win and I came here to win big. That’s what is on my mind, and that’s what is on everyone’s mind.”
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