Alex Lewis' time under first-year head coach Mike Riley started about as well as it could. He was made a team captain. He earned back his starting position at left tackle. He made it through fall camp without injury.
Then September rolled around, the season started, and Lewis didn't fair quite as well.
In the third game of 2015 season Nebraska trailed Miami 33-10, but made a ferocious comeback to force the game into overtime. On the first play of overtime, Tommy Armstrong Jr threw an interception, and after the Miami defender was driven out of bounds, Lewis decked him to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Miami kicked a field goal to win the game, and because of Lewis' penalty, started their game-winning drive on the 12 rather than at the 25. It was Lewis' third penalty of the day; the first two wiped out first downs.
Lewis was ripped apart on social media. He responded poorly, posting a rant on Facebook (which has since been deleted):
I'm done playing for the state of the Nebraska! You want to blame me for the loss, that's fine! But I have done every thing right to prove I belong and yet you im not a husker! So you want to see what Alex Lewis is about? Then sit back and criticize because I'm going to prove to myself and my family and my family that i am better than these fair weather fans that themselves huskers! You have let loose a storm that the huskers havent seen seen since 95 and you will kiss my feet when im done with you! So screw everyone who ever doubts me. Aka the whole state of Nebraska, who said i was not nebraska worthy since my arrest!
Even I commented on Lewis at the time:
@937JohnGaskins Lewis has been a penalty-producing machine. I’d probably bench him if there was a good alternative.— CornNation (@CornNation) September 19, 2015
There were plenty of calls to remove Lewis' captain status or kick him off the team. Riley did neither.
After the 14-13 Illinois loss, Lewis was seen blowing kisses to Nebraska fans in the crowd while saying "I'm sorry we suck."
Again Lewis was ripped apart by fans. Again Riley refused to strip him of his captain status or publicly punish him. As far as anyone knew, Lewis didn't even suffer from extra stadium steps running.
After another last-second loss against Wisconsin, the season started looking better at Minnesota as Nebraska destroyed the Gophers 48-25.
Mike included this in his report card for the Minnesota game:
Offensive Line: A really clean game. The hole that sprung Newby on his 69 yard run was huge, and set the tone for the day. Alex Lewis has taken a lot of criticism this season; let's give him a little credit for his leadership role this week. On Tuesday, Lewis spoke passionately to tell his team to not let this season go to waste. Tip 'o the cap to the captain. Grade: A
It looked like things were picking up after the Gopher game, but Nebraska suffered another last minute loss to Northwestern and a horrifying 55-45 setback at Purdue. Lewis didn't commit a penalty in either game.
He had a false start against Michigan State, and the team had a much-needed win over a top-ranked opponent. He recovered a Tommy Armstrong Jr fumble against Rutgers, but committed no penalties. His only penalty for the remainder of the season was one false start against UCLA.
Bottom line: Alex Lewis turned his season around. He helped Nebraska salvage what what looked like it might be the crappiest season in decades. Credit Riley with having a clear head and not only keeping Lewis as a captain and a leader but getting him to be a part of averting the disaster that the season looked like early on.
Lewis made the coaches second-team All-Big Ten and third team All-Big Ten from the media. He did well at the East-West Shrine Game. He performed well at the NFL combine, and Nebraska's pro day. His NFL draft stock has risen to the point that he's above Maliek Collins in some mock drafts.
It's more than likely he gets drafted this weekend, and in doing so will make more money out of college than most of us make at the height of our careers.
To all of this, I say GOOD FOR YOU ALEX LEWIS!
I wish Alex Lewis the best of luck in this year's NFL draft or in free agency if that's the route that awaits him. I hope he makes a NFL team. I hope he accomplishes his goals. I hope he has a long, injury-free career and makes a lot of money.
I hope that we all remember how the end of Lewis' Husker career turned out rather than what we perceive as the "bad" things he did, and I hope we recall Riley's lesson about sticking with someone rather than just tossing them away.