Alex Fontenot has noticed a change in Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis this week.
In the three days since sophomore JT Shrout injured his knee, thus ending the quarterback battle and making Lewis the starter, Fontenot has seen laser-sharp focus from the new leader of the offense.
“A lot less playing around, more locked in,” Fontenot, a junior running back, said Tuesday of Lewis. “A lot less talking on the sideline. He’s ready to go. He knows the role he has and he’s ready to perform.”
Mentally, Lewis has been ready for a while, but the unfortunate injury to Shrout, who will be sidelined indefinitely, has opened the door for the second-year freshman from Melissa, Texas.
“He’s excited and he’s more motivated than before, understanding the responsibility that he has,” head coach Karl Dorrell said Monday.
Even before Shrout suffered what Dorrell called a “significant” injury on Saturday, Lewis was motivated and eager to lead the Buffs this season. CU’s 2020 starter (Sam Noyer) and top backup (Tyler Lytle) have both transferred and Lewis has seized the opportunity all offseason.
“My mindset is go in there every day and make as many plays as possible, limit all mistakes, be the most accurate that I can be,” he said during CU’s media day last week. “Run the offense, move the ball down the field and score touchdowns.”
That’s exactly what Lewis did at Melissa High School. A three-year starter, he threw for 8,922 yards and 112 touchdowns, with only 18 interceptions, during his prep career. He also ran for 3,240 yards and 39 touchdowns and went 37-14 as a starter.
Recruited to CU by former head coach Mel Tucker, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Lewis graduated early and enrolled at CU in January of 2020, hoping to get a jump on college and compete for the starting role right away. A month into Lewis’ college life, however, Tucker bolted CU for the head coaching job at Michigan State. CU hired Dorrell, who made the quarterback competition a two-man battle between Noyer and Lytle.
“That was super difficult for me,” Lewis said. “I was a star in high school, getting every rep, making all the plays – mostly all the plays. To not be playing at all, being behind two dudes where I felt like I could have been out there being able to play, but I just wasn’t getting a chance. It was definitely difficult.
“It was making me get hard on myself, questioning, ‘Am I good enough? Am I good enough?’ When I finally got to play, all that confidence just came back.”
Lytle transferred before CU’s trip to San Antonio for the Valero Alamo Bowl, vaulting Lewis to second string. When Noyer and the Buffs struggled against Texas, Dorrell turned to Lewis. The Buffs still lost, 55-23, but Lewis completed 6-of-10 passes for 95 yards, ran for 73 yards and a touchdown and led CU to all three of its touchdowns.
Disappointed in the situation at the time, Lewis is now grateful for how Dorrell handled his first year with the Buffs.
“I’m not going to lie, when I first came here, I was not ready to play college football,” Lewis said. “I needed to sit back and watch these dudes and learn from these dudes playing for me to be able to do what I do now.
“I even told coach, I wasn’t ready to play then.”
There’s no question he’s ready now.
Lewis, Dorrell and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini have all seen a dramatic change in Lewis’ confidence since the Alamo Bowl and that has sparked a productive offseason.
“In the summer I put in so much work because I knew the areas I needed to get better at,” Lewis said. “I did that in the summer and now I’m out there making all the throws, few mistakes, few missed throws. I’m out there just slinging the ball around, running around when I need to, making a lot of plays.”
While Dorrell had not planned to name a starter until closer to the Sept. 3 opener against Northern Colorado, Shrout’s injury could benefit Lewis in that he will now get all the first-team reps.
“Anytime you get more reps than when you’re splitting with someone, it’s definitely helpful,” Dorrell said. “His growth has already been tremendous since that bowl game. We’re all expecting he’s going to continue to just really blossom and climb and be more precise and be so much more cleaner in everything that he does from an operational standpoint. So yeah, he should benefit from that.”
The Buffs are also planning to let Lewis be himself. Shrout’s injury has left CU very thin at quarterback – true freshmen Drew Carter and Jordan Woolverton, a walk-on, are Lewis’ only backups – but the Buffs want Lewis to use his dual-threat ability.
“We’re gonna do the things that are great for him,” Dorrell said. “Part of his game is he does great things when he’s getting a chance to move around in the pocket and break out of the pocket and all those things.
“He’s completely confident about what he can do. He feels like he’s Superman and really, in a way, he performs that way at times. We’re happy that we have still a great caliber player that can give us a chance to win each and every week and he’s excited, too.”
Lewis doesn’t necessarily need to be Superman to help the Buffs win, but he’s grateful for the opportunity. His teammates, who are supporting Shrout through his recovery, are rallying behind Lewis.
“He has that role now and we’re rooting for him,” safety Chris Miller said. “The (defensive backs) are trying to make him better, give him the best looks we can give him and he’s giving us the best throws and looks he can give us. It’s give and take; iron sharpens iron.”