BOULDER - Entering his second season with the Colorado Buffaloes, former junior college transfer Drew Lewis is now a starter at inside linebacker.
Part of a dangerous defensive front that includes Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa, Leo Jackson III, Javier Edwards, Chris Mulumba and Jacob Callier, Lewis is touted as one of the most athletic players on the defense by his teammates.
Though he had a hand in every game last season, Lewis made his first career start as a Buff at the Rocky Mountain Showdown last Friday. He racked up 12 total tackles, a tackle for loss and three quarterback pressures, harassing Rams signal-caller Nick Stevens for the duration of the matchup.
"We prepared a lot for our different blitzes and their offensive linemen," Lewis said. "So when it came down to it, I was ready to work the stunts that we practiced and it all turned out pretty well. We made some adjustments in the second half and that actually worked out even better than what we were doing. This week, we have a new game plan and I hope to execute that as well."
Following an offseason riddled with doubts about the rebuilt Buffs defense, the unit was determined to prove themselves when they stepped onto the field. For Lewis, that mentality was a big part of their success.
"Obviously we try to tune that stuff out, but we hear it all the time and it's in the back of our mind always," Lewis said. "We definitely played with a chip on our shoulder, we were trying to come out as fast as we could, wear out their offense. It was pretty evident that they were not as prepared for the game, we were a lot more physical, I'd say, and our physicality played a big factor. Overall, everything that we had prepared for we definitely executed well."
In a shutdown debut, the Buffs' defense allowed only three points on the night, holding CSU scoreless in the second half. A pair of interceptions and a forced fumble highlighted the unit's disruptive potential, while the defensive line wreaked havoc on the quarterback, relentlessly applying pressure.
Though the defense certainly silenced some of their doubters last week, they are far from satisfied. For Lewis, each game will be a new opportunity to prove what this group of defenders can do.
"I feel like we definitely made a name for ourselves as this new Colorado defense," Lewis said. "All that talk, we're still hearing stuff like 'we just had one good game' or 'it's the first game of the season,' things like that. So we're definitely still going to play with a chip on our shoulders and come out even better this week."
That work starts on the practice field, where Lewis has taken on a leadership role and is helping to develop the younger linebackers.
"The new people have to step up, obviously," Lewis said. "I feel like I'm in the perfect role right now, to step up as an inside linebacker with Rick [Gamboa] and kind of lead the defense and help the young guys get along. We have a lot of young talent in this class and I've had a great time helping these guys out. I feel like all around, we're bringing up the expectations."
So far, Lewis has been impressed with the talent around him, specifically with some of the younger players. He is confident that his position group will be able to contribute no matter who is called upon.
"Jacob Callier, the outside linebacker, has definitely improved a lot," Lewis said. "He's proved to me that he's going to be a big time player. The other outside linebacker, Dante Sparaco, same with him. As far as the inside goes, both Nate Landman and Jon Van Diest, they're both really athletic and knowledgeable kids so I feel like they'll be doing a whole lot this year."
With their home opener against Texas State just around the corner, the Buffs are focusing on the fundamentals and winning the battle in the trenches. Saturday's matchup should give CU the opportunity to showcase everything that their defense is capable of, and they are setting their goals accordingly.
"Bottom line, we want to win the game," Lewis said. "We want to hold them to no points, we want to create turnovers - way more turnovers than we had last game, and we want to hold them to bare minimum running and passing yards. That's our goal."
If last week's performance is just the beginning, this Buffs defense could take a step forward this season instead of the widely-predicted step backward. The athleticism that Lewis brings to the defensive line will be a huge asset as CU sets their sights on a second consecutive bowl game appearance.