STATE COLLEGE — On Penn State’s updated official roster for the fall, he’s now listed by his nickname, “Geno.”
Eugene Lewis is perfectly happy to answer to either name as he gets ready for his first action with the Nittany Lions in a few short weeks.
And whether they called him Eugene, Geno or Lewis, his coaches and teammates couldn’t stop talking about him on Thursday at media day at Beaver Stadium.
It seems Lewis, one of the Wyoming Valley Conference’s top athletes in recent history, has developed a penchant for highlight reel catches in practice. One in particular from Wednesday is still fresh in the minds of the Lions.
Unable to shake Adrian Amos, the team’s top defensive back, Lewis eyed a pass coming in high and simply scaled the 6-foot safety and brought the ball in over his head with one hand.
“Oh man,” receivers coach Stan Hixon said, recounting it a day later.
“He had a very, very… he had an unbelievable one-handed catch the other day,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “It was with his right hand. He never brought his left hand in (to secure the ball).”
“Nobody else could do it,” Hixon said.
It’s another weapon for the Lions to use this season while breaking in a new quarterback.
Lewis’ skill was never in question. What he needed to improve on mostly during his redshirt season was his route-running and fundamentals. Playing more at quarterback than at receiver at Wyoming Valley West, Lewis could often fall back on his pure talent to make plays without having to worry much about technique.
Hixon said Lewis has greatly improved in that regard since last summer, and Lewis agrees.
“I’ve come a long way from last year,” Lewis said. “I learned a lot of things about speed and route running and converting my routes against different coverages. Coach Hixon has taught me a lot, and I’m looking forward to more in the future.”
If it’s the start of camp, it’s also the start of the injury list for the Lions.
Already without defensive end Brad Bars (ruptured Achilles) for the season, O’Brien revealed Thursday that true freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton will sit out all of 2013 to fully heal from a wrist injury he suffered in high school.
Also on the shelf for the time being is redshirt freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson, who will be out “for awhile” with a back injury, according to O’Brien.
Linebacker Ben Kline sat out the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery and has been “in and out” of practice during the first week of camp because of it. Kline did not participate on Thursday.
O’Brien said he hopes Kline will be ready to go for the opener against Syracuse. But Kline’s prolonged absence all but cements Valley View’s Nyeem Wartman into a starting role at outside linebacker for the opener.
Starting tailback Zach Zwinak (wrist) did practice on Thursday, albeit in a red no-contact jersey typically reserved for quarterbacks.
Though Zwinak wouldn’t go into specifics about the injury, which he suffered back in the Blue-White Game, he didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d be ready to face Syracuse.
“Absolutely,” Zwinak said.
Special teams shake-up
A side effect of John Butler’s promotion to defensive coordinator means he will no longer be overseeing special teams on gameday this fall.
“Yeah, I’m not Superman,” Butler joked.
Instead, all facets of special teams will be handled by assistants Ron Vanderlinden and Charles London during the week in practice and on gameday.
Last season multiple assistants split the duties during practices before Butler took charge on Saturdays.