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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Meet Rescued Animals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Meet Rescued Animals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The new Live Animal Encounters program introduces museum visitors to rescued wildlife.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

The third iteration of the series will feature chef J.J. Johnson, formerly of The Cecil and Minton's Supper Club in Harlem.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

The tacos-and-tequila bar and restaurant on the South Side doesn't do anything wrong, exactly, but has room to grow.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

As the team prepares the inaugural class of its Hall of Honor, Mike Prisuta selects the four members of the Steelers family most deserving of inclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville put together this chic outfit for the tricky period when summer cools into autumn.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Close to a half dozen local businesses, among them Savannah Hayes and Stak Ceramics, will make their debut next week at the mega interior design and home goods-focused show in New York City.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module