Maryland rising redshirt junior cornerback Marcus Lewis hasn't played a single game with the Terps, but he's long been familiar with the coaching staff.
Lewis decided last summer to transfer to Maryland from Florida State, where he spent the first two years of his college career, partly because of former connections he made with head coach DJ Durkin and defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.
Durkin recruited Lewis when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida, which is where Lewis initially committed during his recruiting process. Abdul-Rahim knew of the former Gonzaga College High School star from his tenure coaching at Friendship Collegiate in Washington, D.C. Durkin took the Maryland head coaching job in December 2015, and one of his first moves was to hire Abdul-Rahim.
It just so happened that Maryland was also the hometown team for Lewis, a District Heights, Md., native. When Lewis told Durkin in the coach's office last July that he'd become a Terp, Durkin "got real excited," according to Lewis.
"I just like his attitude. Coach Durkin, he's a competitor," Lewis said. "He's going to want you to work hard. He's going to push you. His track record is proven, especially defensively. I like that even though he's a head coach, he's a defensive-oriented guy, which means he deals with the defense a lot. So that's a good thing. The defense we run, it was real similar to the defense I had run at Florida State, so I just felt like it was a good match."
Lewis had to sit out the 2017 season due to NCAA transfer rules. This spring, Lewis practiced on the outside at cornerback, where there's opportunity for playing time after the departure of JC Jackson, who was Maryland's top cornerback a year ago before declaring for the NFL Draft. Lewis will bring experience to the cornerback competition in the fall, along with returnees RaVon Davis and Tino Ellis.
Lewis played in eight games for Florida State as a sophomore in 2016, starting five at slot corner, before missing time at the end of the year due to a hip injury that eventually required surgery. Lewis was credited with 21 tackles, two passes defended and an interception during his sophomore campaign.
When he left Florida State and wound up closer to home, Lewis commented that he believed, "it's the best thing for me and my family. … I'm excited for the future."
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Lewis came to Maryland with the reputation as a terrific athlete with size.
"I think one of the best things about Marcus is how physical he's been," Durkin said during spring practice. "He's really shown up as a guy who's playing physical in contact drills where we always knew his speed, his coverage ability was there and that was another element. We never put him in those spots [during practice] last year, didn't need to at the time. And now, he's really proven himself that way."
The fact that Lewis played football at all growing up came at the advice of a former coach. Lewis attended Gonzaga in Washington, D.C., to play basketball -- or so he thought. That was until then-head football coach Aaron Brady convinced Lewis to give football a try.
"Just every day, badgering him," Brady recalled. "I used to tell him, 'Do you want to stay with the small dogs on the porch? Just keep playing basketball only.' But if he wants to run with the big dogs in the yard, come try football out. And eventually he just said, 'I'm going to try it; I'm going to try it, Coach.'"
Lewis played for Gonzaga's junior varsity squad during his sophomore year in 2012 so he could see a lot of snaps and learn the game; he got some run with the varsity toward the end of the season. Lewis and Brady both said the career of the future Terp started to come together during the offseason before Lewis' junior year, which he spent attending camps to hone his technique against high-end talent. He was noticed by coaches at the next level, particularly for his size and speed.
The improvements Lewis made during the offseason were evident when Gonzaga practiced with Friendship Collegiate ahead of the 2013 season. Abdul-Rahim was Friendship's head coach.
"[Abdul-Rahim's] known Marcus, and he kind of saw Marcus grow up, too, because that summer before his junior season, we had seven-on-seven with them and all of a sudden, Marcus was a guy," Brady said. "I remember one day he was the best player on the field, and [Friendship] had a bunch of national recruits. They had a kid who went to Florida, played corner and then a couple other guys and, I mean, he was the best player on the field, no doubt."
Lewis played all three phases and started at cornerback for Gonzaga's varsity team during the fall of 2013. He then helped lead Gonzaga to a 10-3 record during his senior year in 2014 under new coach Randy Trivers. Lewis credited his development as a senior in part to Muhammad Abdul-Rahim, Aazaar's brother and the defensive backs coach for Trivers in 2014.
Lewis, who was listed by 247 Sports as a four-star athlete, announced on National Signing Day 2015 that he'd attend Florida State (after having first committed to Florida); he was one of seven players from his senior class at Gonzaga who earned Division I scholarships to play football. Lewis only got to play in four games as a freshman for the Seminoles, but he took a lot out of the experience considering he shared a defensive backfield with cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White, who are now with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.
"The biggest thing was I got to learn playing behind guys like Jalen Ramsey and Marquez," Lewis said. "It gave me a chance just to learn from those guys, and I knew when it was my time, I would step up and I would be ready.
"[Ramsey] took me and [Tarvarus McFadden] under his wing when we first got there. He noticed that we [were] hard workers and we [were] good listeners, so he took us under his wing, taught us the playbook, taught us the ins and outs of the game. Our relationship was really strong when I was down there."
Lewis redshirted in College Park, Md., last year, which he said allowed him to work with Terps strength coach Rick Court, cover NFL Draft prospect DJ Moore on the scout team in practice and become familiar with the coaching staff and playbook. Lewis also formed a bond with the man whose shoes he hopes to fill this year: JC Jackson.
Lewis knew Jackson from Jackson's days at Florida, and Jackson helped Lewis understand the cornerback position in the Terps' system.
Lewis isn't the only transfer who the Terps hope can contribute in 2018. Defensive lineman Byron Cowart, who was the No. 7 recruit nationally on 247 Sports' composite rankings in 2015, left Auburn last fall, signed with Maryland last December and is eligible right away. Rayshad Lewis, who played receiver for Utah State in 2016, practiced some in the defensive backfield this spring.
"I think we can add experience," Marcus Lewis said. "Me, being that I have played some games down there and the talent that I went against, I feel like [I can go] out there with a little bit of experience, little bit of knowing what to expect, and then same with Byron. He was at Auburn, so he went against some real great players down there and I think that can translate over this year."
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Photo Credit: wlpearce.com/FSU Athletics
Issue 243: April 2018