Eugene Lewis had given his verbal commitment personally to Joe Paterno. A few months later, he was taking an official visit to meet Bill O’Brien for the first time. He returned to campus Sunday and was welcomed back by James Franklin.
All of this, and he’s only halfway through his second year of college.
For Lewis, though, his decision to come to Penn State — and stay there — has been about the school and his teammates.
So the former Wyoming Valley Conference standout is eager to get back to work with his friends for the 2014 season, no matter who is on the coaching staff.
“We’ve been through so much adversity, we just keep coming together stronger and stronger as a team,” Lewis said Tuesday. “With everything that’s been going on, we had to stick together, going through everything as a family.
“No one can break this bond we have.”
Of course it doesn’t hurt to have already met the new head coach in the past.
Franklin was officially hired by Penn State on Saturday, but Lewis had known him from the recruiting trail. Lewis had drawn interest from college coaches across the country, including Franklin, who was still the assistant head coach at Maryland when Lewis was a junior at Wyoming Valley West.
“He recruited me while I was in high school, so I knew him from before,” Lewis said. “I had a good relationship with him already, so I was excited about him getting the job.
“I’m really excited. He’s a real players-type of coach. He’s energetic. Ready to get going. He’s going to be great leader, a great coach. I’m excited to work for him and get into the playbook. I think we’re going to have a lot of success.”
With the notable exception of quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Franklin hadn’t had a chance to meet with many players individually as of Tuesday afternoon.
But Lewis is far from the only player who knows Franklin from high school.
“One of the things that’s kind of unique and interesting is a lot of those guys that we had recruited (at Vanderbilt) in the past,” Franklin said. “So I have a relationship with some of those guys already. Same thing with the guys on the current roster.
“But since they turned me down last time,” he deadpanned, “they’ll be at the bottom of the depth chart and have to work their way back up.”
Kidding aside, the depth chart at wide receiver for the Nittany Lions is wide open headed into 2014. With All-American Allen Robinson entering the NFL draft a year early, Penn State will need a new go-to target.
Among the returning wideouts, Lewis led the team in receptions and yards from last season. Only tight end Jesse James had more in both categories.
Lewis greatly credited Robinson for his development in the past year as he completed the transition from high school quarterback to major college receiver.
“I have to thank Allen Robinson for everything he did for me,” Lewis said. “He was a good role model, a great teammate and a great friend. I learned a lot from him and I wish him the best success.”
Both Lewis and Robinson had flourished under the tutelage of receivers coach Stan Hixon, who will join O’Brien in the NFL with the Houston Texans.
The Lions’ new position coaches haven’t been announced yet, but Franklin is looking to hire most of his staff from Vanderbilt. That would include Commodores receivers coach Josh Gattis, a young assistant who had terrific success with wideout Jordan Matthews, who shattered multiple SEC all-time records in his career.
Multiple Penn State players said Tuesday they also expect to be led in winter workouts by Dwight Galt, the strength coach at Vanderbilt who had previously mentored former Penn Stater Craig Fitzgerald at Maryland.
For Lewis, no matter who ends up filling out the coaching staff, he will continue to lean on close friends and roommates Akeel Lynch, Malik Golden and Brent Wilkerson.
“We’ve been together since freshman year,” Lewis said. “We all just want to stay together keep working, and keep making things right at Penn State.”