ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Jourdan Lewis hasn’t changed much over the years. He talks the same, walks the same and acts the same.
But that hasn’t stopped people from viewing him in a different light.
“I don’t even really notice, honestly. I just keep working,” said Lewis, Michigan’s first All-American defensive back since 2006. “It’s great, you know, to get all of these awards and accolades. But honestly, we’re striving for more.
We’re trying to get this 10th win and you know, there’s always something else out there.”
As a reward for their 9-3 season under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines get to play the Florida Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in Orlando. However, the final game represents more than just a potential happy ending for the 2015 season, it represents a milestone that hasn’t been reached since 2011–the year Michigan went 10-2 before winning the Sugar Bowl.
“This is a big game, you know,” he said. “Getting that 10th win would be a big thing for our program–and going out of the season, like in spring ball, that’d bring so much momentum. It’d help in recruiting, and it’s just really good for the whole program, for us to get that 10th win…”
Thanks to an emphasis on aggressive play, Michigan continued its defensive dominance this past fall. Ranked No. 4 overall, Michigan boasted one of the best run-stopping D-lines and a suffocating secondary. The defensive backs actually pushed Michigan to a No. 3 ranking in total passing allowed (158.8 YPG, 7 passing TDs).
Lewis had two interceptions this year, including a pick-6 during Michigan’s 38-0 Homecoming romp over Northwestern, and finished his junior run with 22 or 23 passes defended. That’s a single-season record at Michigan.
The 2015 season was good to the 5’11,” 175-pound former Detroit Cass Tech star.
“It’s been unbelievable, you know,” said Lewis, whose 49 tackles were the fourth-most on the team. “Just honing in on my man-(coverage) technique–my man-technique, which is like, mostly the main part of my success. So (this season) has been unreal, amazing. Just seeing the whole team grow… it’s been a great feeling.”
Video error correction: UM’s most recent 10-win season was in 2011 (11-2), not 2006.
A year ago, not many talked about Lewis. Today, he’s pretty much a standard component of the “best DB in college” conversation.
Did Lewis prove people wrong?
“You could say that. You know, people didn’t really notice me–even in the Big Ten, you know, I wasn’t a household name,” he said. “But now, you know, since this year has gone on, more people have been noticing it.
And all the Michigan fans have been like ‘Where have you been all this time?! We’ve been looking at this guy since he got on campus.'” But it’s just a really good feeling knowing that people are watching and, I guess, noticing my hard work, basically.”
Hard work wasn’t limited to the defensive backfield. As a way to amplify its special teams, Michigan coordinator John Baxter stuck Lewis into the role of returner. With 15 kick returns for a team-high 378 yards, including a long of 55 yards, Lewis actually ended up showing off even more of his athleticism.
“Coach Baxter actually told me in the spring that I had zero chances of being back there, so you know, I had to prove him wrong,” Lewis said, smiling. “Now, you know, he loves me back there. I’m just happy that he gave me a shot back there. You know, it feels great, because I did it in high school. So it’s just a great feeling to know you can do what you did in high school in college.”
A year go, the Wolverines weren’t prepping for a bowl–they were hoping to get on with the type of season they just finished. Nine wins in the regular season speak volumes for Michigan. The only way is up for a team that’s bent on chasing perfection.
After all, it’s driven by players who strive for such heights.
“We’re more aggressive than we were last year,” Lewis said. “There’s an emphasis on being aggressive, and you know, we’re just playing good defense right now. There’s always room for improvement, but you can see a difference from last year.”