Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Like just about everyone else on the Colorado defense this season, Drew Lewis had some great moments, and he had some struggles.
Coming off his first season as a starter at the Division I level, Lewis will take the good and the bad into the offseason as he aims to get better.
“I can say I learned a whole lot, having a lot of ups and downs and I had a lot of fun learning from some other players,” Lewis said. “It didn’t end out how we wanted, obviously, but we can see w here we need to improve.”
Lewis and the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) fell one win short of a second consecutive bowl game, with some late season struggles by the defense costing them down the stretch.
“I think the biggest thing for us is being able to finish,” Lewis said. “Coming down to the fourth quarter, we let up a lot of points. We have to work on finishing strong, doing extra reps or whatever it takes to be able to finish.”
That goes for Lewis, too, as he struggled more in the final stretch of the season than he did early. Still, he finished with a team-high 119 tackles, tied for the second-best single-season total by a Buff in the last 10 years.
“I learned what I was capable of doing,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know what to expect as far as what my stats would look like after the season. I’m pretty impressed with how I did, but I think I can do better. I feel like I learned a lot, just being able to push myself and do what my predecessors were able to do.”
On a personal level, it was a big year for Lewis, who had been waiting a while for this type of opportunity.
A 2014 graduate of Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Wash., Lewis redshirted at Washington that fall. The next summer, he was dismissed from the Huskies’ program and landed at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
A broken thumb early in the 2015 season sidelined Lewis for several games, but he did enough in the games he played to impress the CU coaching staff.
After signing with the Buffs in 2016, he spent the season playing primary on special teams. With Kenneth Olugbode and Addison Gillam graduating after the 2016 season, the opportunity to start was there for Lewis this year, and he took advantage.
Lewis started alongside fellow junior Rick Gamboa at inside linebacker, and proved to be a play-maker immediately, racking up 12 tackles and three quarterback hurries in the season opener against Colorado State.
Lewis wound up with seven games of double-digit tackles, and Pro Football Focus credited him with 28 total quarterback pressures (19 hurries, seven hits, two sacks) — the most among draft-eligible Power 5 conference inside linebackers.
“I noticed all through fall camp and spring ball I’m one of the quicker linebackers, so we could use that to our advantage for pass rushes,” Lewis said. “I had a lot of quarterback hurries and I was able to secure a couple sacks, which was cool.”
During the last couple of games, however, the Buffs and Lewis struggled with their run defense. The Buffs turned to freshman Nate Landman to try to provide a spark.
Watching from the sidelines a bit more often in those final two games, Lewis said, “It allowed me not to take it for granted as much.”
It’s also added to his fire as he goes into the offseason, and defensive coordinator DJ Eliot has no doubt Lewis will be better next year.
“Drew is a great athlete and has the ability to make a lot of plays but was relatively inexperienced,” Eliot said. “He made some mistakes that I don’t think he’ll make again. He has the ability to be a really good player. Now that he’s played one full year as a starter, I expect him to make huge strides next year.”
Lewis expects the same, and part of his improvement will be physical. At 6-foot-2, he began the season weighing around 228 pounds, but finished the season closer to 220. He said he would like to keep his weight around 230 all of next season.
“I wasn’t eating like I should have been,” he said. “Thirteen weeks into the season, that’s a lot of work you’re putting in and you have to fuel your body right.”
Lewis is also fueled by the Buffs coming up short of a bowl game, and said he’s taking to heart the coaches’ postseason message of doing extra work to get better.
“I’m not going to forget about that when all this (offseason) training starts up,” he said.