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.”