INDIANAPOLIS — Going into the 2019 season, Terrell Lewis had four games under his belt. His last sack came over a year and a half ago, and it was the only sack in his collegiate career.
Injuries are part of the game, but for the former 5-star, it was, unfortunately, the norm during his days at Alabama.
Through three seasons, Lewis spent more time on the sideline in street clothes than he did on the field with pads thanks to elbow and knee injuries that cost him most of his 2017 and ‘18 seasons. But in 2019 Lewis was free from a major injury, and for the first time since high school, he was able to play an entire year.
After that season, Lewis decided it was time to make the jump to the next level, a reality he now knows was almost taken from him.
“It’s a testament to God, and him helping me persevere through all the adversity I faced through my college career to still be able to make it to a place like this,” Lewis said Thursday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
This season was more than just stats for Lewis to accumulate. His 13 1/2 tackles for loss and seven sacks were, of course, career highs. But the season was more than that, even if the sacks make the money.
For Lewis, it was the first time since high school where he was actually given the time to progress as a player. Because of this, Lewis believes he's truly just scratching the surface of what he's capable of.
“I definitely feel like my ceiling is way higher," Lewis said. "I made progress throughout the year getting acclimated to playing this much football again, especially the workload you have at Alabama. I definitely think that as the year progressed, I kept getting more and more comfortable playing that much, practicing that much, and playing a long season.”
All that time on the sideline and in the weight room rehabbing gave Lewis a new outlook on not only football but life. He had to have a new perspective. While injured, he wasn’t the 5-star player everyone looked up to. Instead, he was just a player on the sidelines. It was hard, but Lewis is proud of the new perspective he's gained.
“I learned to cherish everything,” he said. “Going through [my injuries] it took my focus away from the game, so you start to cherish other aspects of life: your faith, your family time. And then as far as the game goes, you learn so much from a different perspective. You get to watch things from a coach’s perspective. Our coaches did a good job of still keeping me close to the game and around my teammates so I didn’t lose my football IQ. … By the time I came back to football, I knew what to expect.”
When injured, many athletes would tell you the hardest part isn't the missed time on the field for personal reasons, it's for family reasons — their football family.
“The thing I missed the most was being with my brothers,” Lewis said. “Being out there on a daily basis, grinding with your guys. It was very sad, at times. … That was the toughest thing. Feeling like you’re a bit of an outsider.”
Speaking of his 'Bama brothers, Lewis explained that when you come back from injury at a place like Alabama, there is no easing back. Whether you're going up against the first string or the second string, you're going up against future NFL players, and if you don't bring it, you'll get left behind.
“That’s just how ‘Bama is,” he added. “You’re going to get thrown into the fire. As a freshman, I came in and was going up against Cam Robinson and O.J. Howard. At the end of the day, you get accustomed to it.”
Throughout the course of the combine week, many prospects have been asked who the toughest players they faced during the season were. For Lewis, he didn't have to look far. In fact, he didn't even have to look outside the lines of his own program.
“At ‘Bama, your best competition is who you’re going up against in practice,” he said. “I was going up against Cam Robinson, then the year after that I was going against Jonah Williams, then the year after that it was Jedrick Wills. When you get to the actual game you’re like ‘okay, I’m prepared for this.’”
Prepared isn’t something Lewis hasn't been able to say for a long time due to circumstances outside of his control.
For the first time in a long time, he's able to do everything he needs to in order to get closer to playing at his full potential. Now, he's doing it as a future pro and with a perspective he may not have wanted, but one he needed.