Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Dion Lewis

Dion Lewis’ name is already in lights. The Pitt running back just doesn’t seem to know it.



Photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh

Dion Lewis is like most 20-year-old students at the University of Pittsburgh: He wears a baggy blue-and-gold hoodie to psychology lectures, sneaks in an Xbox session between classes and regards The Cheesecake Factory as Michelin five-star dining. And then there’s the other stuff, which he seems blissfully unaffected by: the magazine covers, the tail of admirers he attracts when he walks down Forbes Avenue and the baseball caps and half-chewed pens that autograph-seeking classmates sheepishly hand him after class.

“I usually keep my hat tipped low to keep people from noticing me,” Lewis says. “And I sit in the back row.”

Despite standing just 5 feet 8 inches, the sophomore running back casts an enormous shadow. As Pitt’s first Heisman Trophy hopeful since Larry Fitzgerald, Lewis is seemingly everywhere—on ESPN, the Sporting News and the side of PAT buses. And if you are to believe the cover of the 2010 Pitt football media guide, he can leap over the tallest downtown buildings in a single bound.

Maybe the image is no great stretch. After all, Lewis’ 194-yard de-jocking of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ defense in the deciding game of last season’s Big East Championship prompted Pitt’s living legend (and lone Heisman winner) Tony Dorsett to say, “Wow ... Wow.” Lewis already captured one of Dorsett’s records—the most rushing yards by a freshman—and he’s gunning for more.

It’s bewildering then that, just a year ago, Lewis was practically invisible. Despite averaging nearly 13 yards per carry during his junior season at Blair Academy, a small high school in Blairstown, N.J., he was so under the radar that even nearby Rutgers University didn’t bother to recruit him.

“I think maybe it was because of my size,” Lewis says of the scouting snubs. “But I knew if I kept working hard, it would all work out.”

While Lewis burned creatine-bloated linebackers twice his size on the field, his older brother, Lamar, burned highlight DVDs. In 2008, one landed on the desk of Pitt’s head football coach, Dave Wannstedt.

After just a minute of watching the pint-sized runner leave opponents chasing his vapor trails, Wannstedt had his assistants schedule a recruiting visit. Soon, other schools started jumping onto the bandwagon, but it was too late.
“At the end of my junior year, I was fully committed to Pitt. Other schools were trying to talk to me, but I told my coach that I didn’t want to talk to anybody else,” says Lewis. “I felt like I was at home in Pittsburgh.”

Still, Lewis arrived at Camp Wannstedt as just another anonymous blue-shirt frosh; blue shirts are the second-stringers, the under-recruited underclassmen who have to Google themselves at South Oakland house parties to prove they’re who they say they are. Camp Wannstedt is a twice-daily preseason festival of suicide sprints, full-contact drills and the notorious “up-downs” (run in place; do a push-up; rinse; repeat).

During these sun-baked three weeks, even the white-shirts, who are the stars, eventually break. But Lewis rose early and kept getting up, even when he was knocked down.

“My alarm would go off at 5 in the morning, and I’d get on the bus to the South Side at about 5:30,” Lewis recalls of his commute to the practice facility. “[I'd use] an old-school regular alarm clock, not a cell-phone alarm, because I’d just turn that off and go right back to sleep.”

On that first bus ride over the Hot Metal Bridge, the silhouette of the downtown skyline peeked through the purple aurora of pre-dawn. On the other side of the muddy Mon River awaited monsters, blue-chippers, full-grown men. Right then, Lewis—the unheralded, undersized underdog with a belly full of nerves and an iPod playlist full of adrenaline—made a decision: “I was going to make my own opportunity.”

Anyone in the know will tell you that Lewis had his coming-out party in his first start against Youngstown State University when he rushed for 129 yards in the season opener and didn’t stop until he’d weaved and whirled and squeaked his way to 1,799 yards—third-most in the nation.

Ask anyone—coaches, analysts, bloggers: “When did this no-name kid become ‘Neon’ Dion? The next Tony Dorsett? Superman?” And it’s always, “Week 1. Youngstown State,” as if it were magic.

As usual, the crowd is a step behind. Most are when it comes to Lewis.

“The journey started,” explains Lewis, “on that first morning of practice.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Three Rivers Champion: Cecile Springer

A self-proclaimed “loudmouth,” Springer says her favorite part of volunteering is meeting other people and persuading them to do what she wants them to do.

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Restaurant Review: or, The Whale

The Downtown restaurant is a captivating, if costly, catch.

Celebrating 5 Pittsburghers Who Built Careers Behind the Bar

Pittsburgh is a city that celebrates its neighborhood bars. In some of those spots, second- and third-generation regulars are pulling up their stools to be served by someone who started pouring drinks decades ago.

Second Chances: Crossroads in the Kitchen

People working to overcome substance abuse problems and ex-offenders discover a welcoming environment in restaurant kitchens.

How to Pamper Yourself in Pittsburgh

Looking to beat the winter doldrums? We round up the best places and experiences for a little personal indulgence.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

The Growing Popularity of Shooting a Clay Pigeon

Skeet shooting is taking off as a favored western Pennsylvania hobby.

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Andrew McCutchen: Thanks for the Memories

It's hard to overemphasize McCutchen's impact on the Pirates and its fan base.

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Comments

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

Comments

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Bitter End’s Chicken Dinner Fundraiser

Chefs Becca Hegarty and Rick Easton to cook comfort food to help Hegarty’s mother.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Comments

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Here are some of our favorite ‘Burgh-inspired gifts for him, her, kids, foodies and more.

Comments


The Battle of The Hollywood

The Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Comments

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

Tequila Cowboy: Fine For Some, Apparently a Bad Idea for Others

The bar, which hosted a bizarre incident involving a top Steelers coach, is fine enough for the post-collegiate set.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

Comments

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

Steelers Must Avoid ‘Captain Ahab’ Approach to the Jaguars

The Patriots are to the Steelers what Moby Dick was to Captain Ahab and that kind of obsession can backfire.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Comments

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

The Post is Quite Good, I, Tonya is Even Better

Reviews of "The Post," "I, Tonya" and "The Commuter," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.

Comments

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

These Elaborate Proposals Were Sure to Get a “Yes”

Thinking of popping the question? Take a note from these grooms-to-be who set the bar high.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Former Art Institute Housing to Be Converted into Condos

Downtown is booming as plans develop for yet another new apartment building.

Comments

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Lesson Learned: How Design Changed a North Allegheny Classroom

Frustrated by his sterile white classroom, teacher Greg Geibel earned an A+ from students when he transformed the space into something resembling a modern coffeehouse.

Comments