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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Reserve linebacker Lewis shines in big chance

    UA linebacker Sterling Lewis, 35, teams up with cornerback Marquis Hundley, 23, to take down the ball carrier in a 41-16 win over Toledo Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Lewis had a team-high 12 sacks in the game in relief for an injured Xavier Kelley.
    UA linebacker Sterling Lewis, 35, teams up with cornerback Marquis Hundley, 23, to take down the ball carrier in a 41-16 win over Toledo Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Lewis had a team-high 12 sacks in the game in relief for an injured Xavier Kelley.

    Explosive. Athletic. Fast.

    These are words usually associated with a star player rather than a reserve. Not in the case of junior Sterling Lewis.

    He is one of many talented linebackers on the Arizona football team, but his contribution to the squad this year might not have been expected by those outside the team.

    “”You always need to pay attention and be focused in practice because you never know when it’s gonna be your chance to come in,”” Lewis said. “”You don’t want to pick it up just because you’re starting. You always play like you’re a starter.””

    Lewis’ mentality paid off for the entire Arizona team when starting weak side linebacker Xavier Kelley injured an ankle in the Wildcats’ game against Toledo. Lewis came in and did his job – perhaps better than any other defender that day. He led the team with 12 tackles. His 10 solo tackles carried the team through the first two games, which were three more than Ronnie Palmer and cornerback Marquis Hundley completed.

    “”(Lewis) really fits the bill for what we’re looking for. He was ready to go, he was well prepared,”” said UA linebackers coach Tim Kish of Lewis’ performance against the Rockets. “”The D-line did a great job of keeping us clean all night and that’s what a linebacker is supposed to do in this defense – make plays.””

    Lewis should keep making plays, at least for another week. UA head coach Mike Stoops said Kelley is more of a “”safety net”” for the New Mexico game, which places Lewis in the starting lineup. This will be his first start, but Lewis’s production level has shown that he will be a significant force on an athletic Arizona defense.

    “”(Lewis) has that knack for just running around and playing ball and making tackles and just have some punch when he gets there,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”Once he gets into position, it’s just – boom. He can fly around.””

    A junior college transfer, Lewis is no stranger to playing at a high level despite his lack of competition against Pacific 10 Conference talent. During his 2007 season at Blinn College (Tex.), Lewis registered 61 tackles – one for a loss – forced four fumbles, recovered three and had one interception and a blocked punt over a 10-game season.

    Perhaps his approach to the game helps his efficiency. Lewis said the main thing he brings to the team is “”a lot of excitement, speed and athleticism.””

    While he might not have as much game experience as some of the other linebackers, such as Palmer or Kelley, in Lewis’s mind that doesn’t matter.

    “”I think experience nowadays, it’s overrated because if you can play, you can play football,”” Lewis said. “”You just try your best to come out here everyday focused and prepared.

    “”The competition helps you step it up,”” he added. “”Everyone wants to start, but only the best 11 are gonna play.””

    Lewis and Vuna Tuihalamaka could be the best group of reserve linebackers Arizona has ever had, Mike Stoops said earlier this year. Add the starting trio of Palmer, a healthy Kelley and Adrian McCovy, and the depth at linebacker is reaping its dividends. Four of the top eight tacklers on the team are linebackers: Lewis (15), Palmer (10), McCovy (6) and Kelley (5).

    “”We’ve been mixing (personnel) up as you saw in that first game. I certainly expect X (Kelley) to get healthy and get back into that rotation again,”” Kish said. “”But that’s the good news – we’ve got depth at that position and there’s no drop off between one and two. That’s what makes a good football team.””

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