There’s no reason to dance around it. Penn State’s new offense needs someone who can stretch the defense. And right now, there’s no better candidate than Eugene Lewis.
“He’s gotta have a good year for us. He’s gotta be productive,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said during his spring stop in Wilkes-Barre, just a few minutes across the river from where Lewis dominated at Wyoming Valley West.
“He’s one of the guys we’re counting on, that’s for darn sure.”
With Allen Robinson gone a year early to the NFL and the Nittany Lions fielding an especially young receiving corps,many have Lewis already penciled in as the team’s top wideout.
Lewis is well aware of what’s expected of him. And he’s also well aware that it’s production, not hype, that matters.
“I’ve had pressure since high school,” said Lewis, who was the focal point of the Spartans offense at Valley West. “At this point in time, the only thing you can do to get past that is go on the field and make plays.
“Anybody can do a lot of talk and all that. The main thing is going out on the field and doing it. I’m really excited for the position I’m in. I’m humbled, and I can’t wait for the season.”
Lewis was in good spirits over the weekend, speaking before the Lions’ annual Lift For Life fundraiser.
So too was his quarterback, Christian Hackenberg.
With the coaching staff on vacation and prohibited from overseeing the players’ progress during this part of the summer, it’s up to the players themselves to get together and improve.
That includes frequent passing and seven-on-seven drills organized by Hackenberg. It’s the only way for him to build chemistry and cohesion with his receivers.
Lewis in particular.
“He’s one of the guys that’s been out there a lot,” Hackenberg said. “We both feel really confident about camp and headed into the season.
“It’s what you’ve got to do at this stage in the year and camp right around the corner. You have to take as many opportunities as you can to get out and throw with those guys and just get things down.”
Things like timing on routes. It was during those hot summer sessions a year ago that Hackenberg first developed his rapport with Robinson, and the two hit it off immediately once the season started.
Lewis and Hackenberg started building that toward the end of last season, when Lewis’ reps increased. He ended up catching two touchdowns in the season finale at Wisconsin, including what proved to be the game-winner.
It’s a different feeling this summer. But according to Lewis, things are off to a good start with training camp less than three weeks away.
“Absolutely,” Lewis said. “Seven-on-sevens, they’ve been going good. Me and Hack, we’re definitely on a great page right now. We’re still working on it, but it’s going well. Me and him are doing a great job just staying connected.
“If he feels more comfortable with you, he’s going to throw more targets to you, basically. We do extra stuff in the mornings. The more comfortable he is with his receivers, the better it’s going to be and the easier it’s going to be.”
One factor that could help both Hackenberg and Lewis is the development of the team’s heralded wideout recruits.
Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton and true freshmen Troy Apke, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin and De’Andre Thompkins all have a chance to step up and see their first collegiate action.
Hamilton missed all of 2013 recovering from wrist surgery and wasn’t able to catch passes until this spring. Thompkins has a step up on his classmates because he was on campus for the last semester after graduating high school early.
“They’re explosive, they’re tall,” Hackenberg said. “Really rangy guys. They show a lot of ability, a lot of talent.
“But we’ll see when the pads come on. And camp’s right around the corner.”