Jermelle Lewis

Running Back, 2002-2004

November 7, 2016

Written by Mitch Smith

His Iowa teammates called him “Skills.” And for good reason.

Jermelle Lewis lived up to the moniker, showing the finesse and patience to cut between blocks, the power to run through defenders and the speed to a take a kickoff to the house.

The Iowa running back from 2002-2004 showed great promise as a backup to starter Fred Russell in 2002, rushing for 709 yards on an Iowa squad that won a share of the Big Ten title and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl.

But injuries impeded what could have been a promising football career. A torn ACL kept Lewis out of the first six games of the 2003 campaign, and another torn ACL in 2004 kept him out of all but four games in his senior season.

Although the injuries effectively kept Lewis from achieving his aspirations of reaching the NFL, the former Hawkeye doesn’t spend time thinking about what could have been.

“I used to reflect back and think about what it would have been like if I stayed healthy,” he said. “I’d run through scenarios in my head, but to be honest I stopped doing that because it’s a waste of my energy and brainpower. The best thing is to look at ‘what is’ instead of ‘what if.’ Learn from it, grow from it and share it.”

Lewis, 34, is doing just that — sharing his experiences and knowledge of the game with student athletes. The former Hawkeye is in his third year as an assistant football coach at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids. He also works as a billing consultant for GoDaddy and operates his own business, called Prime Performance Athletics — devoted to training and developing youth athletes in Eastern Iowa.

Working with student athletes has been a fulfilling experience for the former Hawkeye. He coaches multiple offensive positions at Jefferson, holds football camps, and conducts individual training sessions. Through it all, Lewis is focused on helping each kid he coaches grow on and off the field.

“Coaching has really been the highlight of my life these last 10 years,” Lewis said. “It’s a way to get back into the game, and one of my better assets is teaching and establishing a relationship with these kids. I love interacting with the kids and helping them develop by sharing the experiences I had in high school, at Iowa, and in life.”

While becoming a head coach is certainly a future aspiration for the former Hawkeye, Lewis said he’s committed to staying at Jefferson and building a winning culture at the school for at least the next three to five years. He hopes to continue expanding his assistant coaching role, serving as a mentor and positive role model in the community.

Having a coach on staff with Division I playing experience is a huge plus, Jefferson head coach Brian Webb said, but what really stands out is the former Hawkeye’s ability to instruct and relate to the players.

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“You have to be able to teach the game, not just know it,” Webb said. “He’s a natural teacher of the game, and more importantly, he’s able to motivate and make connections with our players.”

Lewis was one of the top prospects in Kirk Ferentz’s first-ever Iowa recruiting class in 2000. The Connecticut native was the state’s prep player of the year, and was named a prep All-American by The Sporting News.

After redshirting in 2000, Lewis suffered a setback in 2001 when academic ineligibility forced him to miss the entire season. But he bounced back in a big way in 2002, running for 709 yards, scoring nine rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, and a kickoff return for a score.

One of his most memorable games came in a 34-9 win over No. 9 Michigan. Lewis scored a pair of touchdowns and ran for 105 yards in the second half, playing a key role in handing the Wolverines their worst home loss since 1967.

It was a special season for the Iowa running back both individually and collectively, playing a key role on one of the greatest teams in the Ferentz era.

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“The fans only saw the finished product — the performance we put on the field each Saturday,” he said. “But what made that season so special was our relationships off the field. Spring, summer winter and fall we were a close-knit family. I think that gave us an edge.”

Lewis would only play in 10 more games over the final two seasons of his Hawkeye career after suffering a pair of torn ACL’s. He ended his Hawkeye career with 1,150 rushing yards, 180 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

The former Iowa running back said he hasn’t talked much about his injuries, noting the great deal of frustration he felt when a football career with so much promise was cut short.

“Those were dark days because I had aspirations to continue playing at the next level,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t get a chance to show Iowa what I could do on the field. I had trouble accepting that fact, and I would push myself to get better and I’d get frustrated when the results didn’t go my way. I had to learn to step outside of myself and understand there was a greater cause and purpose for me and my life.”

Today, Lewis is a happily married father of two. When he isn’t coaching or training athletes, he and his wife Colbi are busy with their children’s’ activities. Their 9-year-old son Keon plays football and does Tae Kwon Do, and 5-year-old daughter Simone is doing dance classes.

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He still makes it over to Iowa City for Hawkeye games when he has the time, and he wears his Iowa alumni ring with pride.

“The Black and Gold is sacred,” he said. “I went to a standup school and was coached by standup guys. I can’t say enough about my time at Iowa. Once you’re a Hawkeye, you’re always a Hawkeye.”

Over the next few years, the former Hawkeye hopes to continue expanding his sports training business, and would like to bring a state football title to Jefferson high school. To do that, he knows he must apply the teachings Ferentz and the rest of the Iowa coaching staff drilled into their players’ minds — particularly having a keen focus on the details.

Lewis’ time at Iowa may not have ended how he had hoped, but he doesn’t let that define him. It’s the lessons he learned on and off the gridiron that continue to pay dividends well beyond his years in the Black and Gold uniform.

“I’m in a position now to make a greater impact on the state of Iowa than I did before,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunities I have, the family I’m raising, and the community I’m a part of. Each day I aim to be a great father, a supportive husband, and a loving member of my community.”

Photo courtesy of Linda Seger

Is there a former Hawkeye you’d like to see feature in an upcoming “Where are they now” story? Talk with Mitch Smith on Twitter at @MitchS91

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