NFL Network Host And Former IU WR Rhett Lewis Recaps Visit With Program
Last week, NFL Network host and former Indiana wide receiver Rhett Lewis was in Indianapolis as part of the network's NFL Scouting Combine coverage. His trip also provided him to opportunity to travel to Bloomington to visit with the program's current players and coaches, speak to students at The Media School at IU and get the chance to watch Sunday's practice.
Lewis was kind enough to speak with TheHoosier.com over the phone Monday morning for his thoughts on the experience, including what he saw during practice, what he likes about IU head coach Tom Allen, current Hoosiers who could potentially get invited to the combine and more.
A complete transcript of that conversation is available below.
TheHoosier.com: How much did you enjoy your time in Bloomington? I believe your jersey is still framed and hanging on one of the walls at Nick’s, if I’m not mistaken.
Rhett Lewis: "Yeah, yeah it is. It's unfortunately not in the Hall of Champions, but I'll take what I can get. Man, I had a great time. Had some great teammates. We didn't win as much as we probably should've, but we had a lot of fun and we played hard. I still talk to those guys. Every time a big recruit signs, or any gameday Saturday, we've got anywhere from 50-100 gmail emails going back and forth in a chain. It was a great."
TH: How often are you able to keep tab on the Hoosiers? You host three different shows during the season - The Aftermath on Monday, Playbook on Wednesday, and GameDay Live on Sunday - and also work with Path to the Draft in the offseason.
RL: "Absolutely. So there's not a game that we play that I don't either watch or listen to with Don Fischer on the radio. I'm trying to think of a game that I did not (watch) - I got all 12 this past year. It's appointment viewing for me. It has been."
TH: How exciting is it for you as a former player to see products of the program get invited to the combine? Last year there was a program record five, this year three.
RL: Yeah, that's fantastic. That's why trying to add a day or two to my trip to the beginning or the end, to make sure I could get down to Bloomington and talk to our coaches about our guys and understand who they are as players and then get to go watch them at the combine. Last year, you can walk around and stick your chest out a little bit, you've got five guys at the combine and it feels pretty good. To see Jonathan (Crawford) today, it feels good. It's a good time to be a Hoosier right now when those kinds of things are happening.
TH: IU head coach Tom Allen has been pretty good making the program accessible for former players, right?
RL: "It's fantastic. That is so cool. It is so great for us, it is so valuable for the program. The fact that Coach Allen welcomes everybody back with open arms, I can't tell you how great that is. I think (Assistant Athletic Director for Alumni Relations) Mark Deal deserves a lot of credit for that too. You know, obviously it starts with Tom, but Mark is just a great liaison between our program and the players of our programs past. We've got two pretty good tried and true Hoosiers right there in Coach Allen and Coach Deal. They're a great link for us to stay relevant with what we've got going on now. All we want to do is support our guys, you know? And they give us that opportunity?"
TH: You had the chance to catch up with Coach Allen in his office as part of your trip. What was that conversation like, and what impresses you the most about the program under his leadership?
RL: "One thing I love, I love how he's a sponge. He's at the highest level of this program, at the highest level of college football, and he still wants more. He wants to understand more about the game, understand more about the players. It's a constant, just from watching him, desire to just continue his education as a coach and as a guy who loves football. That was really cool. (He's) always asking for feedback. Asked me how we can better help create opportunities for our players once they leave Indiana, and that's crucial. They've got to have a plan, they've got to make the plan and they've got to work the plan. He's just as interested in that as he is in getting us to win football games on Saturdays."
TH: Who stood out to you when you had the chance to watch practice on Sunday and why? Or just a particular position group?
RL: "So it was tough for me to say because I wasn't right in front of a roster. Obviously as a former receiver, my eyes are going to gravitate toward the receivers a little bit. Couple of things that I thought there is, I was a little taken aback by - like, I knew Donavan Hale was a big dude, but to see him in person, I was like, 'Golly, man, I don't want to stand across from that guy. I don't want to be locked up with him on a jump ball in the endzone. He's going to win.' I loved watching Nick Westbrook get downfield on one of the last plays of practice make a big catch. I've been a big fan of his the last couple of years. Miles Marshall, No. 80, I thought dude was really smooth. That was fun to watch. Man, he was fun to watch. He's got some juice.
"Knowing that we've got ourselves three really good, confident quarterbacks, I wanted to see those dudes compete and I felt like that was really impressive to me. I was impressed with how Peyton continues to mature into - from the first time I saw him to now, he looks like a whole different person or two additional people. He gets big, he really looks like a Big Ten quarterback. Same thing for Jack, coming in as an Elite 11 guy, you can see why with that arm. I had a chance to say hello to Mike Penix. What a really great personality and a guy that's really happy with his progress with his knee injury. I was excited to see him as much as he was. Look, quarterbacks and wide receivers for me are always going to stand out."
TH: Which of the program's current players, either that you watched last season or had a chance to see last week, have a good chance at receiving an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine once they're eligible for one?
RL: "Look, I think there's quite a few. I didn't get a chance to watch a lot of the guys up front at practice that much, so I'd have to go back and look at the tape on all of that. But I'd say at some point Marcelino Ball is going to be there. I can guarantee you that. I would say we'd probably get - Donavan Hale could be a guy that ends up there, same for Nick. If they put up the production that we all know they're capable of, that wouldn't surprise me in the least. We've got a couple of years before we have to worry about a quarterback being there, thank goodness. Let's keep them for as long as we can, right? That's just a couple, but I think I'm excited to watch this year and find out what these guys really have, and then you and I can have this chat in January of next year and we can have a better idea."
TH: What about this team caught your attention last season, and how is that impacting what you're looking for this upcoming season?
RL: "I'll give you this, and it's not quite as player-specific, but I what stands out to me is we're talking about a dynamic football program - in totality. And it starts at the top with Coach. If you asked me the one word that I would associate with Coach Allen, it would be dynamic. I think he's a dynamic defensive mind, he's a dynamic presence, he's a dynamic leader and I feel like you can see that in the energy, in the tempo, in the pace, in the enthusiasm of this program. Just at spring practice No. 2, I saw it from start to finish. It breeds success, it breeds expectations. I would add dynamic recruiter to that, by the way, after our recruiting class this year. With great success comes great expectation, and the thing I get from being around the coaches is that nobody's afraid of that. Everybody's embracing that. These guys work. They work hard, they work long and they work well. I'm really, really excited for what's to come for IU football this year.
TH: I know you also had a chance to speak to the team after practice Sunday. What was the central theme to your message to them, and what were you trying to convey?
RL: "Two things. The first part was about playing. We all have very limited control over our talent and I was probably the poster child for that. Minimal talent, minimal control over it. But just wanted to emphasize the things that they can control and the things that they have they power to do and the fact that I see those three things. If you can be humble, if you can be hungry and you can be hard to play again, you've probably got enough talent right now that if you can do those three things better than anybody, I'll probably be talking about you on NFL Network one day. I wanted to emphasize that to those guys.
"As you could tell from seeing former players come back, being a Hoosier never leaves you, but football will at one point, right? So what's your plan? What's your plan when you leave Indiana? You might be fortunate enough to have football be your first career but it won't be your last. So what's your plan? Are you working that plan? Are you finding something you love and are you combining it with something that you're good at? I was fortunate enough to do that, and I wanted them to know that and that there's a lot of people out there right now that are willing to help them find that plan and work that plan. So that was the gist of it."