Willie Snead, like fellow Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, grew up in Palm Beach County, Florida.
So Snead has an idea just why Lewis (and everybody else from that part of the country) is so darned quick on the football field.
“I think it might be something in the water, to be honest with you,” Snead explains.
OK, maybe it’s a little more than that.
Lewis credits his speed and quickness to all those days he spent running on the beach and up and down hills growing up.
Whatever it is, it helped the undrafted rookie free agent stand out during Saints minicamp this week.
And when you’re the shortest player on the field, you have to do something to stand out in a crowd.
The shifty Lewis did just that, drawing oohs and ahhs from fans as he juked past defenders after reeling in a pass or returning punts.
When you’re Lewis’ size, you’d better be fast. He’s listed at 5-foot-7, 168 pounds.
But that, of course, doesn’t include the chip on his shoulder.
“Being an undersized guy, I just want to get in front of people and show them what I can do,” Lewis said. “I most definitely had to prove myself my whole life. After a while, it just becomes the norm for you. You’re constantly doing it and you don’t even think about it anymore.”
Lewis, or “T-Lee,” as most call him, hasn’t ever let his size get in the way. He once made his way into the top 10 plays on “SportsCenter” when he was still in high school with one of his catches. Northern Illinois was his only offer coming out of high school.
“When I first got to college, people were like, ‘You look much bigger on film,’ ” he recalled. “I like stuff like that. I just stay quiet and just go out there and prove myself.”
He finished his career with 172 catches for 680 yards and 11 touchdowns. He missed almost his entire junior season with an injury and four more games his senior year.
He ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.
“But I feel like I play much faster than I actually run the 40 in,” he said.
Sean Payton has been pleased so far.
“He’s quick. He can run,” Payton said. “He understands the importance of special teams. I like him. I think there is a skill set with him that he understands, and now it’s just picking up the offense as quick as he can. He is a kid that can run, though.”
Payton compares him to former Saints receiver David Patten. Snead, who went to rival Ball State, played against Lewis in college. He likens Lewis to former LSU sprinter and NFLer Trindon Holliday.
“Trindon comes to mind just because of how explosive he is,” Snead said. “I don’t know if is like Trindon speed-wise, but he has that explosivenss. When the ball is in the air, he makes plays.”
The players Lewis looks up to are players he doesn’t really have to look up to. They are like him: short in stature, but playmakers.
He has a picture of 5-foot-11 Percy Harvin on the back of his iPad.
He says he plays with a chip on his shoulder, much like the 5-foot-9 Steve Smith.
And now he’s teammates with 5-foot-10 Brandin Cooks.
“All those guys, I try to emulate their game,” Lewis said.
Snead says Lewis and R.J. Harris have been the two most impressive rookie receivers during minicamp. But after growing up in the same county as Lewis and playing collegiately in the Mid-American Conference with him, Snead isn’t surprised.
“He is small, but he is so quick and explosive,” Snead said. “As long as he catches that ball and gets open, that’s all that matters in this league. I feel like he will be a great return man as well if he has the rock in his hands. He’s more than capable of getting the job done.”