NORMAN — The road sign just north of Henryetta on U.S. 75, the one proclaiming roots for rodeo legend Jim Shoulders and football legend Troy Aikman, may have some company one day soon.
Like just about a mile north near the Dewar turnoff, this time for erstwhile rodeo star-turned-football star Ronnell Lewis.
“It’d be pretty neat to see his name up there with those guys,” said Dewar coach Josh Been. “At least at the Dewar Junction on 75, huh?”
Been was among those in attendance Wednesday as Lewis worked out for a few dozen NFL scouts at Oklahoma’s Pro Day inside the Everest Training Center.
Lewis is projected mostly as an outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense, and Wednesday he went through drills as both a defensive end and as a linebacker. Since the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, the 6-foot-2 Lewis added two pounds (to 255) and trimmed his time in the 40-yard dash (from 4.68 seconds to 4.65).
At the combine, his workout numbers were among the best at his position. At OU, the Sooner coaches had a hard time finding his position.
After playing free safety and running back when Dewar played eight-man football in 2007, he played middle linebacker and running back in 2008. In Norman, he began as a middle linebacker, moved to strong-side linebacker, then switched to defensive end. His best position, it seemed, was frequently as a freelance-type player who just created havoc. That, or knocking kickoff returners into delirium.
“He often played out of position at Oklahoma,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. “You put the Baylor tape on, he’s playing the 5-technique, which is a defensive end in the 3-4. He’s still getting pressure on the quarterback against that tackle.”
Mayock said if Lewis’ injury history checked out — “ There’s no doubt there are some concerns about durability,” he said — then he projected Lewis as “a solid second-round pick, and his ability might even be higher than that.”
Lewis definitely helped his cause on Wednesday.
After upping his 40 time, Lewis looked fast and smooth in position drills, running with tight ends, pivoting with the ball in the air and even snaring interceptions. He looked not unlike that free safety back in eight-man football.
“Well, you know,” he deadpanned with a big smile, “I still got them instincts.”
“What you can’t deny,” Mayock said, “are his movement skills. In today’s NFL world, if you’ve got exceptional movement skills and an ability to rush the quarterback, you’re gonna make a living and you may get drafted fairly high.”
That would be something, not only for Lewis but for all of Dewar, population 888.
“Everybody knows him back home in our area — the whole county,” Been said. “Everybody knows who he is when they see him. And a lot of that has to do with his personality. He’s real humble and (never) tried to be flamboyant about things. I’m proud of him for maintaining and staying true to himself.”
Lewis is country friendly but also can seem shy at times. A multitude of family troubles — tough enough to hide in Small Town, U.S.A., but especially so for a future NFL player — still follow him around, but he’s worn a rut on Interstate 40 and dealt with them well enough to play college football for three years.
Whenever he goes home, it’s constant smiles and handshakes and well-wishes and hearty slaps on the back.
“Everybody back home is just real excited for me,” he said. “They just want to see me be successful and wish me luck and everything like that. You know, home town, they show me a lot of love and support. I feel like I’m just doing my job and making my town proud.”
The draft takes place April 26-28, and if the right team likes Lewis’ sledgehammer hits, brute strength and explosive athletic ability, he could, like Mayock suggested, find himself going on the first day.
Lewis is scheduled to visit the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots before the draft. On Tuesday night, Lewis and Been had dinner with two Dallas scouts. One asked him, “You’re not riding those bulls any more, are you?”
Been said Lewis was an avid bull rider in high school before he got serious about football.
“Him and another one of our linebackers (Willie Celestine), right before we played the district championship, that Sunday before, they went off and (Celestine) got stepped on and got a bunch of staples in his head,” Been said. “He ended up playing that next week with 16 staples in his head.”
Lewis doesn’t ride bulls any more. But imagine if Dallas comes through — he could join Shoulders and Aikman as famous Cowboys with roadside signs in Okmulgee County. And Dewar could cover both sports with one sign.
“They ain’t gotta put a sign up for me,” Lewis said. “I mean, it would be cool, you know? But I don’t live off that. I like just coming back. My presence — just being there instead of a sign — I feel like just giving back, coming back and working and talking with the kids, that would mean a lot more than some sign.”