Whether it’s the athletes, coaches, front office staff, athletic directors or training staff, it takes a small community to build a winning atmosphere, no matter the level of the sport.
Away From the Game profiles movers and shakers in the Wyoming Valley athletics world. This week features former Wyoming Valley West and Penn State football standout Geno Lewis.
After finishing up his collegiate career this past season as a grad transfer at Oklahoma, Lewis has turned his attention to the upcoming NFL Draft. He’s currently in Davies, Fla. training at The Chamber, which is former NFL wide receiver Chris Chambers’ sports performance and fitness training facility.
DJ EBERLE: I figure it’s a pretty busy time for you because you’re preparing for the draft and hoping you have an NFL career ahead of you, right?
GENO LEWIS: Yes sir. I’m actually training right now down in Florida for my pro day at Oklahoma on March 8.
What facility are you down at in Florida? Are there other guys that have the same goals as you that are down there with you? What’s that atmosphere like?
Yeah, I’m training at (The Chamber) with Chris Chambers. He used to play for the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs. So I’m down at his facility in Davies, Fla. There’s other guys here. I’d say 15 or so. We’re all here just working hard.
When you think of Chris Chambers, he’s a guy who had a long career in the NFL. How much is something like this, this opportunity, helped you prepare yourself for the draft?
I’m just thankful that I have the opportunity to come down here and work with Chris and all the guys down here. They’re just getting me better each and every day and just trying to prepare me for my career.
What’s some of the stuff you’ve been working on? Is there anything specifically you’ve been doing?
A lot of the stuff we’re doing is for the pro day, things like that. We also do footwork drills, a lot of stuff to work on our routes. We go over coverages, and things like that, and how you’d run a route in certain coverages. He goes over some of the code, the concepts and terminology that you need to learn the plays.
You look back at this year, you guys had quite the year going to the Sugar Bowl. You, yourself had a nice season. You played in all 13 games, caught a couple touchdowns. How would you describe your time at Oklahoma?
It was great. I had a great opportunity to go down there. Coach (Bob) Stoops gave me the opportunity to come and play. From the time I got there, I really enjoyed the coaches, I loved my teammates. It was really good way to end my career and my senior year.
You had the opportunity to play with a couple of Heisman candidates there in Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook. What was that experience like, being with some of the best guys in the nation and putting yourself around a great coach and some great players?
It was awesome. Everybody down there was very competitive and we all push each other each and every day. We got each other better and it was great to have great guys. I really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. I just loved the competitive spirit that they had.
What was it like playing with Baker? When you think of your time at Penn State you played with more Pro-styled quarterbacks, whether it was Christian Hackenberg and some other guys. When you think of Baker, obviously he has that great arm, but he has the ability to run, so the offense is a little different.
It was awesome. Baker, he’s a gamer, so he took a lot of excitement into the game. His determination to win was great. It had a domino-effect on everybody else. He started his career as a walk-on and he always had a chip on his shoulder and he played with that same chip like he was still a walk on. He’s a great guy, he’s a great person and he’s obviously a good player.
Now how would compare the process when you’re a graduate transfer? You graduated from Penn State and you’re looking to go somewhere. That recruiting process versus coming out of high school; how is that different or is it even different?
It was definitely different because I had one year left. I had to make sure I made the right decision for myself and my family. I just wanted to go somewhere where I would be appreciated and they would just give me a chance to show my talent. I knew this was my last chance. I had to go through all the schools when I was at Penn State and had to think about if this was the right decision, the right thing for me. You just have to realize you only have one shot, one chance, so you have to make it worth while.
I believed that Oklahoma was the best opportunity for me and the best place to play.
Take me through your season this year. Obviously you guys had that early loss to Houston, but you really rebounded. What was the mentality like as you guys were still pushing, hoping that maybe you had a spot there in the College Football Playoff?
When I first got there, the first goal was to win the Big 12. That was the No. 1 goal and everybody just said when we lost that first game to Houston and we won the next game and then we lost that next game to Ohio State, we all had to come together and make a decision what we wanted to do. Did we just want to pack it up and let the season go as it was going to go or were we going to come together more as a team and finish out strong?
We had a players only meeting at one time and we decided that we were going to finish the season the way we should have started it. It’s not always about how you start. It’s about how you finish and we finished on a very, very good run.
I’m curious, because the Big 12 is different from all of the other Power 5 conferences with it not having a conference championship game. Does that change your midset at all? Knowing that you have to be mistake-free if you want to win the Big 12.
I think regardless it doesn’t really matter what conference you’re in, because at the end of the day, you take every game as a one-game season. You go into every game wanting to win. I think the fortunate part for us was our last game was against Oklahoma State was the Big 12 Championship.
It all worked out at the end. We just wanted to go out and win for the team, for the fans and for all the coaches.
Oklahoma itself. Aside from football, what did you like best about being down there, because obviously I’m sure — I’ve never been there, maybe it’s not — but for someone who’s been in Pennsylvania his entire life it had to have been a change of pace.
Yeah, it was a lot different. The one thing there I liked a lot was the weather. For the most part I liked the weather, but there were a couple of times — you know they’re tornado alley — so there were a couple of little scares, little warnings here and there. When I first got there in January and February, it was still 65, 70 degrees, which was good.
There was Oklahoma City. You had a lot of stuff there. The Thunder were there and there were a lot of nice restaurants. The people are nice there. It was definitely a different setup from Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed it and felt very comfortable when I was there.
Yeah. Did you go to any Thunder games when you were there?
I did not go to any Thunder games, but I went to a couple of OU basketball games, and one of them was at the Thunder’s arena — the Chesapeake Energy Arena. We went to that game, and it’s a nice and beautiful arena. Beautiful city. They actually have a lot of things you can do down there.
So you got there in January and you were there as the men’s basketball team made their trip to the Final Four last year. What was that like on campus when Oklahoma made this run through March Madness and into the Final Four?
It was crazy. Buddy Hield, he was one of the top players in the country. Going to see him, I played basketball, so I always like to go see him play and stuff like that. The fans and the school, they supported the team. The softball girls, they won a national championship. The women’s gymnastics team, they won a national championship. The Thunder, they were in the Western Conference Finals.
It was a pretty big year as soon as I got to Oklahoma. There was a lot going on. It was a fun experience.
Like you said, you played basketball, I know you’re very good, did you ever have a chance to play pick-up at all with any of the guys on the basketball team?
I did, actually. I picked up the ball once or twice. I have to make sure I keep my game nice and crisp. I still got it. Who knows down the road what could happen.
Did you ever take Buddy one-on-one while you were there together?
Actually, Buddy wasn’t there. Unfortunately he wasn’t one of the guys that was there. There were a couple of the other guys that we played against on the team. But I actually wish I got the chance to play against him, though. I’m a competitor and I love competing with the best.
Now obviously when you’re playing D1 football, it’s very time-consuming and you’re balancing graduate classes and things like that, but what were some of the things you did for fun when you had that spare time at Oklahoma?
Definitely went to the movies a lot. A lot of guys out here like to go to the movies a lot. To be honest, with it being my last year and being in grad school, I really had to focus on the books. I had to have a GPA requirement being a grad transfer, so I was really focused on getting my masters. We did extra work football-wise, but we would go out and have fun. At the end of the day I knew why I was there and what I had to get done.
How gratifying is it for you to not only have a successfully career playing in a lot of big games, having a lot of big-time moments, and then to not only just get a bachelors degree but to get a graduate degree as well? How gratifying have these last five years been for you?
It’s been awesome. I’m still getting my masters right now. I’m on the path for that. I just have a couple of internships I have to get to and such, but I’m very grateful and humble for my career. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
I went through a lot of adversity my whole career with a lot of guys. I love all the guys in that 2012 class that I came into Penn State with. Going through the sanctions and different coaching changes and things like that, it really taught me a lot. It really got me to the point where I had to find myself and found out who I was. I’m so humbled and grateful for the plays I was able to make at Penn State and Oklahoma.
I love Penn State. When I left there, I wish nothing but the best for them, because that’s a part of my life and will always be a part of my life. Those were some of the best men that I ever played (with). I appreciate coach (Bill) O’Brien and coach (James) Franklin for the opportunities. And when I came to Oklahoma, I appreciate coach (Bob) Stoops for giving me an opportunity. I’ve had a lot of guys being able to put me in the right places and right directions to be successful. I wouldn’t change nothing, and I’m happy where I am right now and excited for the future.
I was going to say, when you talk about that 2012 class; it was Joe Paterno’s last class, and then as soon as you get there you find out about all the sanctions and you have the opportunity to transfer, but you don’t. You decide to stay. Take me through that process, and why did you end up staying? Obviously growing up in Pennsylvania, Penn State football is everything. Did that play a factor at all?
Yeah, definitely. I had a lot of calls, when the sanctions hit, from schools. Ultimately, I just felt that Penn State was where I needed to be at that point in time. I wanted to be one of the people that would help Penn State get back to where it was and back to where it is today.
My goal in life is to always help people and put people on a path to success, and I wanted to be able to help Penn State get back to where they were. I wanted to be a part of that. I’m so grateful for where they are now and, like I said, going to Oklahoma opened my eyes up to so much in the world. You just have to prepare for everything. The 2012 class is one class. We all stuck together because nobody really broke us up. I still talk to those guys to this day and always will for the rest of my life. They’re my best friends, that class. It just shows how tough and humbled and grateful that class was to just be able to stay and keep grinding each and every day.
For you, you look back at your career, and your first game, you had a game-winning touchdown catch against Syracuse and you’ve caught touchdowns in all these big stadiums — these NFL and international stadiums —so you’re not unfamiliar with catching touchdowns in NFL stadiums. How excited are you for this next part of your NFL career?
I hope and pray that I keep catching more touchdowns in NFL stadiums. I go out each and every game and play to the best of my abilities, go out there and play for my team, play for my family, and my brothers and sisters, and play for myself. I’m very confident in my game. I know I have a long way and I have a lot of things to work on. That’s going to continue to be my goal — keep getting better every day. I hope I have a very successful career in the NFL. I’m just going to try to take advantage of all of my opportunities that come.
You talk about your family. What’s it like growing up in an athletics family? Your dad was drafted in the NBA, your aunt played basketball at Pitt, your sister plays basketball at Iona right now — she’s having quite the season. What’s that like?
It was very, very competitive. My dad, he brought us up to be that way. You want to be the best, you have to work to be the best and play the best. My sister, she’s having a great, great season, a great career so far at Iona. She was the (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) Player of the Week last week. I’m very happy for her.
Just being humble, you know? Just going out and showing your talents on the court. If you do the right thing than the right things will come. Hopefully my little brothers and sisters will have the same success that we did, and I believe they will if they just keep doing what they’re doing right now.
Speaking of your sister, obviously you’re very competitive and you played basketball. Who, growing up, would win when you would play?
Me. Hands down. It wasn’t really a challenge. My sister knows she can’t beat me now. I just told her this the other day, that I will always be the best in my house. My dad, he can’t beat me either. They’re both very good, but I just know I’m the best in my house.
Did you ever think about wanting to play basketball? If you decided to pursue basketball and you take these five years, where do you think you’d be in a basketball career?
I did. I still miss it today and I believe that if I had the opportunity, if I came out of high school and played basketball, I probably would have went to Pitt. Followed what my dad did and where my aunt went. They were doing well then.
I miss basketball. I’ll go out and play here and there. I love basketball, but I choose football for a reason and I think God put me down this path to play football for a reason. But like I said, I love basketball and I’ll never (forget that). You never know.
Lastly, to wrap it up, I think you said your pro day is on March 8. Obviously that’s a very big day for you guys. What are you looking to get out of that experience? What do you think you need to go in there and take out of to help better your draft stock?
I just need to go out there and put everything that I learned out here on display. Just trusting the process that I’ve been going through the last six, seven, eight weeks. Once I get there, I’m going to pray about everything and go out there and perform to the best of my training. I have one shot to do this at my pro day and I’m going to go out there and give it the best I can. I hope that I brighten some of the coaches and scouts’ eyes once I get there.
At the end of the day, I’m just going to let the cards go where they go and as long as I know myself that I gave it the best I could and I did the best I could to be successful, I’m going to be happy with the results.