- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Kenny Lewis Jr. has waited his whole life for this fall.

When the University of Cincinnati (1-2, 0-1 Big East) comes to Lane Stadium today, the 21-year old true freshman will be the third tailback for 11th-ranked Virginia Tech. As a senior at George Washington High School in Danville, Va., Lewis was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and spent three years lingering in minor league outfields and dreaming of football.

“I led my league in stolen bases every year — it wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t do it,” he said of a baseball career. “It was the fact that I didn’t want to do it. After my first year, I told my dad I didn’t want to go back. But he’s my father, I look up to him in so many ways, and so I just listened to him and kept going back, kept going back.”

Lewis Sr. had good reason to want to see his son succeed in the relatively safe area of baseball. He was inducted into the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame as a running back and a hurdler in 1998, more than a decade after a knee injury ended his NFL career with the New York Jets.

“My father, he played football and he’s always worried about the longevity, the wear and tear,” Lewis said. “So you always need something to fall back on.”

A fourth-round pick by the Reds, Lewis took a handsome baseball signing bonus as his backup plan. But his mother, Theresa, insisted he also have a plan to go to college.

“We decided to put it in my contract,” he said. “They’ll pay for my books for school, my apartment, things like that. If I need a meal plan, they’ll pay for that.”

After declining a football scholarship, Lewis enrolled at Virginia Tech in January and nonetheless began working out with the team. A nagging hamstring injury from baseball and a rolled ankle from spring practice relegated him to the scout team until last week.

Although the Hokies’ primary running back, Branden Ore, has had success, they have struggled to find an adequate backup. High school All-American George Bell has yet to fully recover from a massive knee surgery, and current No.2 Elan Lewis has battled weight and knee issues of his own.

Lewis was moved up from the scout team early last week. Last Saturday he put on the No.20 his father had worn and ran through the tunnel to Lane Stadium for the first time in uniform. Although he got only fourth-quarter carries when the victory was already assured, he ran for 16 yards and an insurance touchdown.

“It doesn’t matter if I get in the fourth quarter of every game,” he said. “I’m going to try my best to make something happen.”

In today’s game, Lewis may not have much more than a few late touches to remind old-time Hokies fans of his famous father, but he’ll finally have an easy mind.

“I could live going to the NFL and never playing baseball,” he said. “But going to play baseball and always wondering what if — if I was good enough to compete at this level and maybe go on to the next level? I couldn’t live like that.”

HOKIES KEYS

Confidence — An undefeated, untested Virginia Tech team will have to guard against being too confident. The Hokies haven’t been shut out since the last time Cincinnati visited Blacksburg, in 1995.

Field position — The Bearcats’ offense, ranked 91st in the nation in total yardage and having only last week settled on a starting quarterback, lacks the punch to overcome tough field position.

Turnovers — A few sloppy turnovers could negate any advantage in field position. This game is still Tech’s to give away. With leading receiver David Clowney out for an emergency appendectomy, expect offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring to be at his most conservative.

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