Coach Al Golden ran a special play for receiver Malcolm Lewis in last year's spring game.
Quarterback Stephen Morris threw Lewis a short pass in the flat and Lewis raced up field untouched for a touchdown -- as the entire team chased after him to celebrate the moment. The scripted, feel-good score of the day was designed to honor Lewis after he fought his way back from a horrific ankle injury at Georgia Tech, which ended his freshman season only seven months prior.
UM's defense doesn't plan on giving up any scripted touchdowns to Lewis Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium. Lewis, who had surgery to repair a torn groin in late February, can now earn it without any help or pain. Listed as a co-starter on the team's depth chart, Lewis is among several intriguing players to watch during Saturday's festivities.
Other non-starters from a year ago running with the first team on offense: quarterback Kevin Olsen, running back Gus Edwards, center Alex Gall, right guard Danny Isidora, right tackle Taylor Gadbois and tight end Standish Dobard. Lewis, though, could end up being one of the few who sticks around in the starting lineup when injured starters and other regulars return to form in the fall.
So far, Lewis has more than held his own the spring, flashing much of the same speed and burst coaches and teammates saw from him when he was standout at Miramar High School. In UM's second scrimmage, coach Al Golden said Lewis had five catches for over 100 yards.
"It's great to see him have his mojo again," sophomore receiver Stacy Coley said. "He just had to fully recover. He's still the same person from freshman year that I thought. He's still explosive in and out of cuts. He can break a DB down. Together, I can line up on the outside and he'll line up inside and get reverses. Or he can go deep and take the top off the safeties and stuff."
Cornerback Tracy Howard, who starred at Miramar High alongside Lewis and considers him one of his best friends, said he missed being able to compete with Lewis in practice for the bulk of the last two years. The two had classic one-on-one battles in high school.
"He handled it so well," Howard said of Lewis, who missed the final eight games of the 2012 season and was then slowed by a torn groin for most of the 2013 season. "Most guys would be down. I'm sure he had those points, but he never let us see him down. I never heard him complain about it, cry about it. When I was making plays he congratulated me, was happy for me. He was never down. I don't know how he does it. He's strong. It seemed like nothing really bothered him."
Lewis is not only head strong, he's also fast. Lewis said the last time he ran the 40-yard dash he ran it in 4.4 seconds before his freshman season at UM. Asked if he felt just as fast, Lewis said Thursday he feels just as healthy, but even faster. Lewis said he's down from about 200 pounds to 191 and he feels the difference.
"The twitch is back," Golden said. "The first recovery was a very long recovery. His groin started hurting him during the year. He never really had his twitch. Now he's got quickness. He's playing with confidence. He's feeling really good. You can sense it. I know the guys can feel it. At the scrimmage Friday there was a palpable difference with him on the field. A different speed, a different tempo, a different confidence from him which is great to see."
Lewis, who has 15 catches for 144 yards and one score in his career at UM, has lined up mostly in the slot this spring. But he can play outside as well. He says his motivation to succeed this coming season "is not just about me anymore."
"It's about my family," Lewis said. "I can push through anything I go through. I just have to keep fighting through adversity and just keep going, pushing myself. I feel like my explosion, coming out of my routes, making the first guy miss. I feel like everything is back mostly. I just want to keep progressing from there. Get better."
> Coley said the only difference between Olsen, 19, and injured fifth-year senior Ryan Williams is age.
"The ball doesn't come out of their hands any differently," Coley said. "If it does, we're wide receivers. So we know to catch the ball. Wherever the ball is we just have to grab it and catch it."