UM’s Lewis: Citrus Bowl won’t suffice this time

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jourdan Lewis

Ann Arbor – Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis knows his name is on a number of college football award “watch lists,” and while he is appreciative, they really don’t matter to him.

Lewis, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior who last year set a single-season Michigan record with 20 pass breakups and was named All-American and All-Big Ten First Team, this week was named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. He was a semifinalist last year.

He also is on the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch lists.

Lewis, who had 52 tackles and two interceptions in 2015,  last week worked as a counselor at The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, and earlier this week spoke to young Detroit boys participating in the two-week Youth Impact Program at Michigan.

He said he enjoys the opportunity to work with youngsters, whether they’re the top athletes in the country or youngsters who are just starting to figure out their way. He would rather work with kids than concern himself with award lists.

“I don’t really grasp that, the preseason stuff and how much hype plays into who’s here and who’s there and who’s on this list,” Lewis said this week. “I’m just the same guy. I just enjoy helping people and playing football.

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“It’s good to know people are appreciating my play, but all this preseason hype, I’m not too fond of that. But during the season, if I get praise for actually doing something, I enjoy that more, when we actually get into it.”

While Lewis is considered one of the top corners in the country and his NFL draft grades are high, he is still negotiating how to deal with the hype.

Lewis said he saw Stanford running back and 2015 Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey in Oregon and wasn’t sure how to react.

“Honestly, I saw Christian McCaffrey and I’m like, ‘Oh, man, how did I get here? How do I deserve to be here?’” Lewis said.

Lewis also acknowledged things are changing for him: “People talk to me kind of different now, and it’s real weird. I don’t really like it.”

Lewis is humble when it comes to discussing his skill, but it’s clear he knows how good he can be. On Mel Kiper’s first Big Board for the 2017 NFL draft, Lewis is ranked the No. 15 player.

Jourdan Lewis

“You’ve always got to have that confidence, but at the end of the day I know I’m going to outwork any corner in the nation,” said Lewis, who played at Detroit Cass Tech. “I’m going to compete and I’ve got to have that drive.

“At cornerback you’ve got to have that type of swagger that I am the best.”

He credits defensive backs coach Mike Zordich for much of his improvement. Zordich, an All-American at Penn State and a 12-year NFL veteran, demands precision, Lewis said.

“He has helped with everything through the knowledge of the game and understanding it more,” Lewis said. “That’s what really took my game to the next level, just understanding where to be and understanding the defense and understanding what you can and what you can’t do on certain plays. And formation recognition – he has instilled that in us and helped us a lot.

“When Coach Zordich got here, he really broke it down for us. We have to know every formation by name. He has specific names for formations and we’ve got to know them. That’s the standard. Technique always has to be precise, because that’s the difference between a pick and a reception. I had knowledge of the game and knew when I could do certain things. But when he came in and he showed us these different formations and tricks when you see different looks, it has really helped my game. He’s been a huge part of our development as players.”

A few more weeks of summer conditioning and seven-on-seven drills, and then preseason camp, separate the team from the start of the season, but Lewis is ready.

Michigan was 10-3 last season in Coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season, and the Wolverines ended on a high note with a big win against Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

“Winning is really what my main goal is and that’s why I came here,” Lewis said. “I wanted to turn a program around that was, you know, we kind of lost our way. I’m excited to see what we can do. I can’t wait.”

Winning the Citrus Bowl was significant, but there’s more Lewis wants to accomplish.

“I’m like, ‘It’s the Citrus Bowl – we want to be somewhere else,’” Lewis said. “We want to be in a New Year’s Eve bowl (national playoff). That’s our goal and that’s what I want for our team. I want to see my guys win – the guys I came in with and the younger guys I’m trying to help progress.”

He said the biggest change in attitude among the players has come from Harbaugh, a former Michigan and NFL quarterback.

“Everybody was complacent with where we were and Coach Harbaugh came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to win this game. We’re going to do that right now,’” Lewis said. “It wasn’t a rebuild. He said we have goals right now and we’re going to accomplish those goals. You can see his intensity and his teaching in everything he does. The way he is as a person you can see how that combines into one big mega-culture.

“Coach Harbaugh and this coaching staff, they know what they’re doing. I can feel a difference. He has guys who are knowledgeable about the game and know what to do. They don’t panic in crucial moments when they have to coach and teach.”

Lewis said something feels different this offseason: “You can feel a vibe. They’re just letting us be us. Just letting us do what we do the best.”