Lewis first scholarship player from District 2 in nearly a decade

Last updated: August 24. 2013 11:35PM - 1482 Views
By - dlevarse@civitasmedia.com

Like Eugene Lewis, Nyeem Wartman joined the Penn State program in 2012, as the linebacker went to State College after a standout high school career at Valley View.
Like Eugene Lewis, Nyeem Wartman joined the Penn State program in 2012, as the linebacker went to State College after a standout high school career at Valley View.
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7 Eugene “Geno” Lewis

Wyoming Valley West

Redshirt freshman wide receiver

• After redshirting in 2012, Lewis looks to be the next man in line behind starters Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder at wideout. He should see a healthy number of snaps each game in Bill O’Brien’s diverse offense, which will look to use him in several packages.

Lewis has also been working with the return teams since last season and could be a candidate to field kickoffs at some point.

Coaches also haven’t forgotten his background as a quarterback at Valley West. Though O’Brien wasn’t huge on gadget plays in his first season, could there be a call or two drawn up just for Lewis?

“We’ll see when the season comes,” Lewis said.

5 Nyeem Wartman

Valley View

Redshirt freshman linebacker

• Wartman has already seen the field, making an immediate impact by blocking a punt in last year’s opener to set up a score. But a knee injury in Week 2 sidelined him for several weeks, at which point Penn State elected to keep him out so he could get a medical redshirt and keep all four years of his eligibility.

He has a huge opportunity in 2013, manning the starting spot at weakside linebacker right from the beginning. With the Lions light on depth at the position, Wartman figures to be on the field for much of the season.

Defensive coordinator John Butler and position coach Ron Vanderlinden both praised Wartman’s intensity and his instincts. And as Lackawanna League players knew all too well, Wartman delivers a hit as hard as anyone.

75 Eric Shrive

West Scranton

Fifth-year senior lineman

• By Shrive’s own admission, the expectations were higher when he signed with Penn State as one of the highest-rated offensive linemen in the country back in 2009. While classmates John Urschel, Adam Gress and Ty Howle are in line to start on Saturday, Shrive will come off the bench to spell players at both guard and tackle.

Even still, Shrive has made great gains under the new coaching staff under the wing of offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. Shrive took a big leap before last season to see his first extended playing time in the fall, and his snaps are in line to increase in 2013.

Beyond that, Shrive has emerged as an under-the-radar leader on the squad, in part because of his tireless work with Uplifting Athletes and the team’s Lift For Life event, personally raising more than $100,000 for kidney cancer research.

21 Brian Tomasetti

Old Forge

True freshman running back

• As Penn State battles scholarship limits imposed by NCAA sanctions, coaches have diligently combed the state for talent, hoping to entice Pennsylvania players to come play for the Nittany Lions as “run-ons.” The appeal of playing at Beaver Stadium was huge, having attended games there with his father, Rich Tomasetti, who also played at Penn State.

The Nittany Lions are getting one of the Lackawanna League’s best athletes from 2012, as Tomasetti set an Old Forge record by topping 1,800 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns while leading the Blue Devils to a division title.

Selected to the Class A all-state team, Tomasetti was also an excellent defensive back, recording nine interceptions. That kind of versatility is exactly what the Lions are looking for when recruiting non-scholarship players.

Michael Mauti faced some great athletes on Saturdays last season. And the former Penn State linebacker was just as impressed with who he saw during the week in practice.

By the end of his final season with the Nittany Lions, Mauti would light up at the mention of Eugene Lewis’ name.

“I can tell you from experience personally,” Mauti said. “He’s gonna be a great addition to this team for the next couple years.

“He’s definitely a guy to look out for. When he gets the opportunity, he’s gonna make the most of it.”

He’ll get that chance starting Saturday.

While redshirting in 2012, Lewis — called “Geno” by teammates and coaches — worked primarily with Penn State’s scout team, often playing the role of the opposition’s best athlete on offense.

And he gave the Lions’ defense, led by NFL draft picks Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill, plenty of trouble.

In 2013, Lewis is ready to make an impact on Saturday’s himself along as Penn State’s first scholarship player from the Wyoming Valley Conference since GAR’s Paul Jefferson in 2004.

Now that Matt McGloin has graduated, Lewis is one of a handful of players who will carry the District 2 banner for the Lions along with Valley View’s Nyeem Wartman, West Scranton’s Eric Shrive and Old Forge’s Brian Tomasetti.

“Anybody we can get from Northeast Pa. is great,” Lewis said. “A lot of guys don’t come out from there and especially here. So anybody from there that comes here, you want to have a great relationship with them.”

The playmaking ability he showed at Wyoming Valley West was good enough for Lewis to have seen the field as a true freshman.

But after playing quarterback as a junior and senior for the Spartans, Penn State coaches were eager to refine his fundamentals as a receiver.

A shot at immediate playing time was one of the things that drew Lewis to Happy Valley in the first place when he gave a verbal commitment to Joe Paterno in the summer of 2011.

So when Bill O’Brien’s staff ultimately decided to try and redshirt him a year later, it was difficult for him to handle at first.

“Yeah, absolutely it was tough,” Lewis said. “I’m a competitor. I want to be on the field. I just want to go out there and help my team get a win.

“Obviously that was the best decision for me, though. And now I look back and I’m happy I did redshirt. I’m ready this year.”

The biggest area he improved on in the past year was his route running. Lewis had last primarily played receiver as a sophomore at Valley West. At that level, he could rely on his talent, especially his leaping ability, to make up for any issues.

“Geno, he can run an OK route and still make a great play,” receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “He’s covered, but he’s not covered, you know? So we tell the quarterback if it’s close … just throw it up and let him at it.”

Against the top talent in the college ranks, however, that isn’t always enough.

Fortunately for him, his experience as a quarterback can help him understand where he needs to be on a play and also helps him read coverages to adjust routes as necessary.

Both player and coach are happy with the progress he’s made heading into his first game on Saturday.

“Absolutely,” Lewis said. “This year I had to be more focused because I know I’m getting out on the field. I have to lower my mistakes. my main thing is go out there and keep competing.

“Last year at this time, he was just a player making plays on athletic ability,” Hixon said. “Not going off his fundamentals. His fundamentals have improved tremendously and that’s going to get him over the hump.”

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