Tight Ends Coach Derek Lewis may have the most intriguing story out of all the coaches on Florida’s staff. Lewis has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows throughout his 37 years of age. He came to Florida with head coach Will Muschamp after Urban Meyer resigned after the 2010 season. Since then, he’s coached standout tight end Jordan Reed, and Trey Burton to some extent, as he’s coached the Gators tight ends for the past three years. Reed earned All-SEC honors by emerging as Florida’s top receiver, totaling 79 catches for 945 yards and six touchdowns in his two years under Lewis. Since then, however, tight end production has been nearly nonexistent. The Gators primary tight ends, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook, combined for only four catches for 42 yards and no TDs. Westbrook did catch a two-point conversion. Lewis has a new group to go along with the solid blocking TEs Burton and Westbrook that could bring the position back to prominence. Although Colin Thompson decided to leave UF after repeated foot injuries, the 2014 recruiting class of Moral Stephens, DeAndre Goolsby, and C’yontai Lewis looks to bring the tight end position back to where it was when Reed was still around.
Derek Lewis hails from New Orleans where he was an eye-catching tight end of his own at St. Augustine High School. He continued his outstanding career at the University of Texas where he played four years for the Longhorns. Lewis was a 1998 All-Big 12 first team selection which was preceded by All-Big 12 third team honors the previous year. Lewis went on to play in the NFL where he won Super Bowl XXXIV with the St. Louis Rams. Unfortunately for Lewis, that’s when his luck ran out. Take a look at Lewis in the 1996 Big 12 Championship game:
His playing career ended after he blew out his knee and was released by the Rams following the 2000 season. No other teams came calling. Even though he spent four years at Texas, Lewis never earned his degree from the institution which left him jobless and without a diploma to fall back on. So Lewis moved back to New Orleans, where he grew up in the 8th ward in a shotgun house with scant means. He did the only thing he thought he could do, which was to work at the bus station. Lewis drove busses for a while before reality set in with a couple of instances.
“I got held up. Couple of guys [overdosed] on the bus. It was some trying times out there. You just deal with it. You give them what you’ve got. You keep your head down and keep going.” – Florida Gators TE Coach Derek Lewis (h/t Miami Herald)
Those incidents forced Lewis to reevaluate his life. He called up his college coach at Texas, Mack Brown, and asked him if he could finished his degree. Brown obliged and it led to Lewis’ journey into coaching. Lewis started off as a graduate assistant for the Longhorns between 2005-2006 where he won the BCS Championship in his first season. Lewis also helped coached TE David Thomas, who holds the Texas career records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns by a tight end, as well as the TE single-game record. He moved to North Texas where he coached defensive ends for one season, then made his way to Minnesota where he started to make a name for himself. In his three years with the Golden Gophers, he coached the tight ends and served as an assistant for special teams. The Gopher offense prominently featured tight ends, with Nick Tow-Arnett earning the most notoriety. Tow-Arnett’s 2009 season featured an All-Big 10 honorable mention as he was Minnesota’s second-leading receiver.
Lewis now has the tough task of having the tight end corps bounce back from a tough season in terms of production. With the injection of the pass catching talent of Stephens, Goolsby, and C’yontai Lewis along with Burton and Westbrook, look for tight ends to be targeted more in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper‘s offense. With his fiery, intense personality and coaching style, it’s easy to see why players want to come and play for Lewis. Tight Ends Coach Derek Lewis is just one of the reasons we’re happy there’s only 66 days until emotions run high in The Swamp.