By Jonah Bronstein
All those times Tyrone Lewis went flying into the Gallagher Center grandstands, could he have been preparing to take the Lambeau leap?
Widely written off as an NBA prospect, the Niagara University senior said this week that he has on on-campus workout scheduled with the Green Bay Packers in early April, less than three weeks before the NFL draft.
Lewis plans to start "two-a-day" training sessions on Monday, gearing up for his football tryout in the mornings with Niagara's strength and conditioning, Matt Diegelman, and getting in the gym for basketball workouts later in the day.
"Basketball is still the first option, but now that I have another opportunity, I'm going to go after it, and I'm going to train hard for both," said Lewis, who is Niagara's career leader in steals and 3-pointers and the third all-time leading scorer. "I'm excited, but I'm not going to get too excited until after the workout."
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Lewis was a standout cornerback, wide receiver and kick returner at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pa., and as a junior, was receiving more recruiting calls to play football than basketball. His uncle, John Lewis, played at Pittsburgh in the early '80s and spent the strike-portion of the '87 NFL season with the Buffalo Bills.
"It's funny because my uncle told me before the basketball season, "Don't worry about basketball because you are going to play football again,' " Lewis said. "I laughed at him. But he must have known something I didn't."
Lewis said he received an e-mail from Eliot Wolf, assistant director of pro personnel for the Packers and the son of former general manager Ron Wolf, shortly after Niagara beat Siena in a nationally-televised game Feb. 12.
Wolf explained that he'd been following Lewis since his freshman year at Niagara, was aware of his football background, impressed with his speed and agility and wondering if Lewis had any interest in pursuing a football career after college.
"I e-mailed him back and said football wasn't really an option because nobody had given me any kind of hint that I might be able to play," Lewis said.
The next weekend, Niagara played its BracketBuster game at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin, where George Koonce, a Packers linebacker from '92-99, is the current athletic director. Lewis noticed Koonce was watching him closely during warmups, and after scoring a game-high 23 points in the first half of the Purple Eagles victory, assistant coach Akbar Waheed told Lewis that Koonce was looking to talk with him.
Niagara's season ended Sunday, and Wolf reached out again a few days later. Having just sat down with coach Joe Mihalich to begin planning his basketball future, Lewis decided to go through with the Packers workout, and called one of his close high school friends, Houston Texans running back Steve Slaton, for some advice.
"He told me if they're coming to you, they must be really interested," Lewis said. "His agent then called me and told me how it works after the workout."
In the fall, Lewis and some of the other Purple Eagles did football-style agility workouts on the school's turf soccer field. One day, they ran timed 40-yard dashes for fun, and Lewis was clocked at 4.45 seconds, an above-average time for skill position players. Lewis could also performance an elite-level vertical leap greater than 40 inches, according to the estimates of teammate Demetrius Williamson, who was recruited to Missouri as a high jumper before deciding to play basketball.
Lewis' NFL workout will take place a few days before the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, the annual showcase event for seniors hoping to prove their NBA prospects.
"I haven't heard anything about Portsmouth," said Lewis, who isn't optimistic about a late invitation considering that it took "some twisted arms" from Mihalich to get Charron Fisher into the event two years ago, even after he finished as the nation's second-leading scorer.
"I've talked to a few agents here and there, and they say I have a good opportunity to play overseas," Lewis said. "One agent asked me what my deadline is. I don't have a deadline. I'm going do the football workout, and hopefully I'll know right away if I'm good enough. I'll talk to Steve's agent about the football thing, and listen to what coach Mihalich says about basketball."
E-mail reporter Jonah Bronstein at email@example.com