If Damien Lewis cried tears of joy Friday night when the LSU offensive guard was chosen No. 69 overall in third round by the Seattle Seahawks in NFL draft, he certainly had a reason.
He has overcome obstacle after obstacle in his young life.
Until nearly 2 ½ years ago, his father was in prison for selling cocaine. For the past 14 years, his mother has been disabled after damaging her spinal cord in a Hurricane Katrina-related accident.
Because of grade problems, Lewis had no Division 1 offers.
His best scholarship offer was from Northwest Mississippi, a junior college program battling in a state which now has produced the last seven of nine NJCAA national champions.
He immediately moved into the team’s lineup starting 22 straight games, was named a two-time NJCAA All-American, and was rated the nation’s No. 3 offensive guard and the No. 109 overall prospect by 247Sports.
From there, LSU coach Ed Orgeron found the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Canton, Miss. native and the rest is history.
“I’ve been counted out and had to get it the hard way my whole life,” said Lewis, who started all 40 games of his college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College and LSU. “It started with zero (scholarships) offers out of high school. I got some exposure in junior college, had 18 D1 offers and ran with the best offer from LSU. I made the best of it and now I’m here waiting to get my name called.”
LSU beat out several SEC schools for Lewis’ services.
“We knew one of the coaches at Northwest,” Orgeron said of his recruitment of Lewis. “They brought us in their office and said `Coach, you’ll never coach a better young man.’ They were right. Damien has work ethic and off-the-chart character.”
Lewis knew as soon as talked to Orgeron that he wanted to sign
“Coach O gave me a chance and recruited me himself,” Lewis told Tiger Rag assistant editor William Weathers. “When he offered, I told him I was committing to him and to help bring a national championship.
“I had to go in and compete for a job knowing that LSU had two starting guards (Garrett Brumfield and Ed Ingram) coming back. I was thinking about all of the hard work that I had to put in. I was thinking not to let it go to waste, that this was my shot and I had to showcase myself.”
Two years ago as a junior, he led LSU’s offensive linemen in snaps with 978. He participated in every snap in 11 of 13 games, including all 96 snaps in the Tigers’ seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M.
Last season as a senior, he played 802 snaps, was part of the Joe Moore Award-winning nation’s best offensive line and earned first team All-America honors from at least one national publication.
Lewis participated in the NFL scouting combine and received a late invitation to the Senior Bowl.
“I felt like the Senior Bowl really helped me a lot,” Lewis said. “It was a great week for me. I went to compete with some of the top guys in the upcoming draft and showcased myself in front of the scouts. I wanted to show them I had what it took to play at the next level with some of the big defensive players that were there.”
Lewis, regarded as LSU’s strongest player with a 475-pound bench press and 635-pound squat, knocked out 27 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds during February’s NFL combine.
“He’s a masher,” NFL draft expert Mike Detillier said of Lewis. “He buries people at the point of attack on runs. He’s improved as a run blocker.”