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November 5, 2008

Despite injury, Lewis has plenty to add to Hokies' cause

By: Jimmy Robertson

On a cold, blustery afternoon, Tech’s football team worked out in Rector Field House, and along the sideline stood a young man on crutches dressed in a sweatsuit – and wearing a helmet, of all things.

To be sure, it was an odd sight. But then it’s surely been that kind of season for the Hokies, who have battled countless severe injuries and a brutal schedule, and yet still went into November with a clear shot at claiming the ACC’s Coastal Division crown.

On this particular day, though, not even a helmet could disguise the pain on the face of Kenny Lewis, Jr. As most know, Tech’s starting tailback and resident emotional leader shredded his Achilles tendon in the victory over Western Kentucky University and now faces his toughest opponent ever – rehabbing from that injury.

“I actually feel good physically,” Lewis said. “But it just doesn’t feel right not being out there. When the game starts and it’s not me out there catching that first kickoff, it just doesn’t feel right.”

The injury marked the second devastating one for Lewis. Last spring, he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery. Tech’s sports medicine staff expected him to miss the first three or four games of this season because of that one, but Lewis’ ferocious work ethic enabled him to come back without missing a single game.

This latest one is a different beast, however – it’s arguably the toughest injury from which to return. The ordeal figures to be a nine-month affair.

Lewis, however, can still be a major player on this team, even without being on the field. In fact, his role now may be even more far-reaching, considering Tech’s injury situation.

Tech running backs coach Billy Hite wants Lewis to remain involved with the running backs. He wants Lewis to impart his wisdom, and more importantly, blanket them with his upbeat attitude.

So for the rest of this season, he’ll be trading his helmet for a whistle and his playbook for a headset. He’ll be juggling rehab sessions and position meetings.

“I’ve always considered it a blessing to be around the guys,” Lewis said. “Coach Hite wants me to be in the meeting rooms and to be on the sidelines during games. I think I can help those young guys. I can tell them what the defense is going to do in certain situations. You know, if the linebacker is doing this, then the safety is going to do that. Things like that. Instead of them reacting to the defense, the defense will have to react to them.”

It’s a role Lewis never thought he’d have to embrace. And one he never really wanted to, at least in the days following the injury.

But his unyielding faith and a stern lecture from his father led him to embrace his near future. Lewis read the book of Job in the evenings following his injury, and for those without a Biblical background, Job was a pious man who lost all of his possessions and all 10 of his children to the curses of Satan. Yet Job remained true to the Lord, and later, received double his possessions and he and his wife had 10 more children.

“I saw how he stayed faithful,” Lewis said. “He was going to serve God regardless. That opened my eyes.”

And the speech from Lewis’ dad?

“He got mad at me,” Lewis said, with a smile. “He got mad at me for not thinking of how I could think of helping someone else.

“Mine is a testimony in the making. That’s how I look at it. This injury isn’t about me. It’s about doing my best to help the guys.”

The stretch run is here. It’s all hands on deck, and Lewis’ teammates definitely need him.

Even if he’s on crutches.

Money month

The month of November often gets referred to as the ‘money’ month in college football, as most games are conference games with lots on the line – such as championships.

The turning of the calendar to the month of November bodes well for the Hokies, who traditionally have played their best football down the stretch. In fact, Tech currently sports a 10-game winning streak in the month of November dating back to a 2005 home loss to Miami and has won 13 of its past 14 November games heading into a Thursday night match-up with Maryland.

Frank Beamer’s teams simply get better as the season goes along. The Hokies are 37-15 in November since 1993. Time will tell if form holds true.