October 23, 2013 10:23:08 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Jameon Lewis' media guide biography doesn't list a major.
It may as well say Lewis is going for a bachelor's degree in wide receiver because he has taken significant steps in three seasons to mastering the position, including learning where to go, how to get open, and when to get open.
"I think he takes more of that in now than in the past," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "Before he got here, he really never had to think about those types of things. He just went out there and played."
Lewis spent his first two seasons at MSU learning the spread-option playbook after being able to freelance as a Wildcat quarterback at Tylertown High School. Lewis was named the Class 3A Mississippi Association of Coaches Offensive Player of the Year while leading the Chiefs to 15 straight wins en route to the school's first state championship. As a senior, Lewis was 75 of 137 for 1,161 yards with 13 touchdowns. He also had 200 carries for 1,182 yards and 18 touchdowns. The MSU coaching staff knew Lewis was a Southeastern Conference-caliber athlete, but he didn't know what it took to be a wide receiver.
"It's taken me a little bit of time, and there's no denying that," Lewis said. "I've been here a while, and I know the offense inside and out now. The learning curve has been kind of rough in the beginning."
In his first two seasons at MSU, Lewis had more rushing attempts than catches at the slot receiver position because he was still trying to grasp the complexities of the playbook. Lewis dazzled fans as a freshman late in a 59-14 victory against Memphis with 113 yards on four catches and one touchdown. He had three catches and was a kick returner on special teams the rest of the season.
"This is his first season as being one of the go-to guys," Mullen said. "He was a role player in the past where we'd have to find ways to get him the ball in special situations."
As a freshman, Lewis was used as a scout team quarterback in Wildcat packages. During the preparation for the 2011 Gator Bowl against Michigan, Lewis simulated being quarterback Denard Robinson in practice to prepare MSU for his dual-threat capabilities. MSU won that game 59-14.
With the graduation of Chad Bumphis after the 2012 season, the 5-foot-9 Lewis was looked to as someone who needed to play a bigger role. In six games, Lewis leads MSU (3-3, 0-2 SEC) with 23 catches for 393 yards and three touchdowns.
Lewis is the only non-quarterback starter on the team with multiple touchdowns. He also has rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
"Getting open is a big quality as a wide receiver isn't it?" MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "He's understanding the system more and more each year, and we knew the talent was there. You can't just run around and get open in this offense."
Mullen suggested it took Lewis seeing himself and Bumphis on film in the offseason for him to grasp the importance of timing in running routes. Simply knowing a route wasn't enough because it would only be a completion when the quarterback planted his back foot and found the receiver at his break.
"A lot of guys come back to the sidelines and huddle and yell they were open," Mullen said. "Our response sometimes is, 'Well yeah, you were the third read on that play, so we didn't need you to be open right then. We needed you to stay patient and not quit on the play or the route. If you would've been open at the right place and time, you would've caught the ball.' "
MSU will try to spring Lewis for a big play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPN) when it plays host to Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) at Davis Wade Stadium.
"Being a student of the game is something I've had to learn over time, and that's helped me develop as a football player," Lewis said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.