BOULDER - The Colorado Buffaloes, who saw several star-caliber athletes head to the NFL this April, currently house two players in their defense who may forfeit their final seasons of eligibility to test their talents at the professional level.
One of those players is Isaiah Oliver, the dual-sport corner and track star who has garnered attention for years at CU. The other is linebacker Drew Lewis, a relatively new name to most, and an athletic juggernaut who is shooting up NFL draft boards across the country.
A junior college transfer in 2015, Lewis is in the midst of his first season as a defensive starter for the Buffs. Through six weeks, he has tallied 45 total tackles.
Lewis has also applied a ton of pressure to opposing quarterbacks, racking up four quarterback hits and 14 quarterback hurries in his first five games this year. He leads the FBS for the most quarterback pressures among outside linebackers with 17.
Lewis is still waiting to record his first sack of the season - but he thinks it's coming very soon.
"I definitely want to [get to the quarterback]," Lewis said. "I know the last time I had a sack was against Oregon State last year, so this would be a good time to do that again. It always comes down to being maybe one step away every time, so I just need to get their quicker by one step and I think I'll be able to record some sacks."
Though only in his second year at CU, Lewis is surrounded by veteran talent that is always ready to point him in the right direction. He spoke highly of his teammates and aspires to reach their level of comfortability with the defense.
"I like playing with them a lot because they always know what they're doing," Lewis said. "I have Rick [Gamboa] in the middle who always can tell me what to do when I don't know. The same goes for the outside linebackers and the secondary guys too - they're all on top of what they need to be on top of and they're really smart, they have the whole defense down. I want to get myself to be at that level too, and I feel like I'm on the way there."
There is one person, in particular, defensive captain Afolabi Laguda, who helps to push Lewis every time they step out onto the field. The defense feeds off of their shared energy, and it all starts with Laguda.
"Fo [Laguda] always says that we have to bring energy," Lewis said. "He always shows the most of it and feeds off of everyone around him."
Despite starting the season off with a trio of convincing performances, the defense has struggled against conference opponents. They had a particularly hard time last week against Arizona.
For Lewis, those problems came primarily in run protection, where the Wildcats backup quarterback rushed for 327 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday night. Though the Buffs struggled mightily in that capacity, Lewis is certain that they can make adjustments as a group to contain the run for the rest of the season.
"We played pretty well, pretty sound overall, Lewis said. "What we didn't take into account was the quarterback on most of the plays. Obviously, he got away on a lot of them - he busted open some 75-yard, 80-yard runs. So we need to account for the quarterback more often and we'll be good."
With such a successful outcome for Arizona's dual-threat quarterback, future opponents will likely attempt to test CU's run defense in the weeks to come. Lewis knows that run protection has to be a priority moving forward.
"I can see other teams wanting to exploit that because we kind of showed a weak point," Lewis said, "so we need to correct that and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Lewis also emphasized the importance of holding steadfast as a unit and not assigning blame to any single person or position. In the face of adversity, the Buffs defense must bend, not break.
"I think what it comes down to, what we really need to tighten up on is when things don't go our way, we need to stay poised," Lewis said. "We kind of start pointing fingers and turn into individuals instead of a team, so we need to stay together and stay collected when things don't go our way."
Despite their occasional stumbles, CU's defense has proven far better than anticipated this year. As they head out onto the road for back-to-back conference tilts, Lewis is focused on closing every game out strong.
"I'm really confident in our defense," he said. "I know we're a great football team - when it comes down to it we're maybe one inch behind the other team. I'm not disappointed at all, I feel like it comes down to the very last series most of the time so we just need to finish more."
If Lewis continues his dominant level of play this season, it could very well be his last year suiting up as a Buffalo. As scouts take notice of his striking athleticism, speed, and pension for getting to the quarterback, Lewis is etching his name on big boards everywhere. He has yet to make a decision about his future in football, but for now, he plans to spend next year at CU.
"I do want to come back," Lewis said. "Obviously I don't know what's going to happen but as of right now, I plan on coming back next year, pursuing my fifth year and just seeing what happens."