As dean of students and head football coach at Westminster Academy in Florida, Tommy Lewis’ schedule is packed on school days in the late summer and fall.
That was the case Friday, when his son, LSU walk-on quarterback Caleb Lewis, buzzed his cell phone to deliver the news: He’s now on scholarship.
“I was in the middle of lunch duty when he called me,” Tommy said Saturday morning. “He was in Coach O’s office. Couldn’t have been a better surprise, just a wonderful moment. I had a few words with Coach O and thanked him. Caleb and I were crying tears of joy.”
Coach Ed Orgeron awarded two scholarships this week, one to Lewis and another to fifth-year senior linebacker Jonathan Rucker. Teams are allowed to distribute a maximum of 85 athletic scholarships. Two transfers this month, by guard Maea Teuhema and quarterback Lindsey Scott, freed up spots for the former walk-ons.
“Players loved him,” Orgeron said of Lewis. “Calls (offensive) signals for us. He came to me this summer and said, ‘Coach, I want to stay here, but I can’t make it. Just can’t make it. Anything you can do for me, I’d appreciate it.’ I told him that I would.”
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Rucker, a Ponchatoula native, has been a key piece of LSU’s special teams over the previous two seasons, and Orgeron said earlier this week that coaches are “comfortable” with him playing meaningful snaps at inside linebacker this season.
The inside linebacker position is low on experienced depth. A trio of freshmen is fighting to see time in the rotation with presumed starters Donnie Alexander and Devin White. Tyler Taylor and Jacob Phillips are “neck and neck,” Orgeron said, behind Alexander at the Mack inside linebacker spot. Rucker is in the mix behind both starters, battling with Taylor and Phillips while also competing with Patrick Queen behind White.
Lewis, a third-year sophomore, hasn’t seen game time. He serves as a reserve quarterback and, at least last season, traveled with the team and helped signal in the plays.
Tommy hopes the scholarship news means his son’s opportunities at quarterback will grow. The 6-foot-4, 223-pounder is a student of the game who models his play after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, his dad said.
He’s no slouch in the classroom, either. Caleb is scheduled to graduate in December after just three years at LSU. He enrolled at the mid-year in January 2015 holding 26 college credits earned during high school. He turned down at least three scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs: Buffalo, Florida International and Ohio.
Whether his scholarship will extend past graduation is unclear, Tommy said.
His son would be eligible to transfer to an FBS program in January and play immediately under the NCAA's graduate transfer policy. He’d have two year of eligibility remaining.
“Both sides will evaluate it after this fall and go from there,” Tommy said.
Rucker is in his last year of eligibility, meaning the program will reacquire his scholarship after the fall.
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For the Lewis family, the financial burden of one semester of college is lifted. An athletic scholarship at LSU, for an out-of-state athlete, is worth more than $38,000. Caleb had been attending school under a partial academic scholarship, his father said.
Now he's completely covered, which greatly benefits the Lewis family. Caleb is the oldest of five children, including two boys the family adopted from west Africa.
"There’s no question that, especially in today’s NCAA where kids can get stipends to cover the unlisted cost of going to school, what a blessing a scholarship is," Tommy said.
Lewis’ practice and scrimmage snaps grew, Tommy said, with the departure of Scott. He’s receiving action behind presumed starter Danny Etling, freshmen Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse and third-year sophomore Justin McMillan. He even got a few snaps in Saturday’s latest scrimmage in Tiger Stadium, Tommy said.
Most expect coaches later this week to announce Etling as the starting quarterback, and Brennan has clearly worked his way up the pecking order, attempting the second-most passes of any QB in the past two camp scrimmages.
But the position after this season is somewhat unpredictable and quite thin, a situation that could behoove the former walk-on Lewis. The program lost two to transfer this year in Brandon Harris and Scott.
This is Etling’s final year of eligibility, leaving two freshmen and McMillan. McMillan’s future is uncertain. The freshmen appear to be outpacing him in scrimmage playing time. Then there’s Lewis.
“His goal remains to be the starting quarterback at LSU,” Tommy said. “We’ll see what the Lord has in store for him.”