Up Next

HBCU Football

Being one of college football’s best defensive players isn’t enough for Southern’s Jordan Lewis

For the senior, last season’s Buck Buchanan Award winner, helping the Jaguars win is his ultimate goal

If it weren’t for Jordan Lewis’ neighborhood friends begging his mom Tomorrow Lewis to sign him up for football, he may have never landed at Southern University. Now a decade later, as the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award recipient, Lewis is paving the way for other aspiring athletes at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and creating the future he always dreamed of.

Growing up in Ocala, Florida, Lewis was no stranger to the competitive sports environment. When Lewis was 9, his mom caved in after lots of convincing from some neighborhood boys and signed Lewis up for the Pee Wee Packers.

“He didn’t know how to play a lick of football when he started. I took him to the coaches and informed them of that and they were like, ‘Don’t worry about it, they will teach me everything he needs to know,’ ” said his mom.

Lewis’ career only soared from there. Lewis, now a senior at Southern, was named defensive player of the year in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) last season before being announced as the Buchanan Award winner, which is given to the top defensive player in the FCS. He is the first SWAC player to receive the honor.

Other honors bestowed on Lewis were the Black College Football Hall of Fame Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year award, being named to the FCS Athletic Director’s Association All-Star team, National Defensive Player of the Year and American Football Coaches Association first-team All-American.

“I always think about winning that [Buck Buchanan] award. Every time I see the picture on my wall, it feels pretty good knowing I got a lot of exposure out there, and just know that no matter where you at, even if it’s at an HBCU, just do what you gotta do to be seen and exposed. So, it felt pretty good winning that award,” said Lewis.

Those who follow HBCU football know it was no surprise that Lewis was the 26th recipient of this prestigious award. At 6-feet-3 and 200 pounds, Lewis had a record season in the spring for his Southern University Jaguars. He finished the season with 27 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss of 82 yards, one forced fumble and six quarterback hurries.

Lewis doesn’t compete with awards in mind. He said they are just a product of his competitive spirit and fierce nature on the field.

“When I play, I think about just winning, winning the game and doing my job on the field. Just going out there and giving it all for my team,” said Lewis.

Lewis’ mother served as his major support system as his athletic aspirations grew and led to his recent collegiate success. She helped him transfer from Forest High School to Trinity Catholic High School, which is well-known for its football program. She made the transition in hopes of putting Lewis in the best position for football success post-high school, and she is proud to see their sacrifices paying off.

“I cried [when Jordan won the award], because I was like, ‘Wow, my son is a national award winner.’ I could never believe in a million years that I could hear his name on that platform, you know, every mother would love to hear that, and when that happened, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, my son did it,’ ” said Lewis. “I’ve always told Jordan that I just want him to accomplish something that no one in our family has done. My mother died when I was 4 years old. I wish she was here to see some of the things that he’s done. It’s always been just me and the boys. I feel so good because it lets me know that maybe he can go on to the NFL, because all I want him to do is be able to take care of himself if I leave this world tomorrow. I want to make sure that my kids are able to take care of themselves and I’ll be all right.”

Lewis has always proven to be a stellar athlete. In high school, he decided to pick up track and field as an offseason activity to keep in shape. Lewis ended up mastering the sport and went undefeated his senior year in the 110-meter hurdles, becoming the 2018 Florida Classic 2A state champion. His success with track left him wondering whether he wanted to fully devote his focus to football. Ultimately, he chose football because of the rigors of pursuing a two-sport career in college. Yet, his time as a dual-sport athlete was key to his development.

“I think track really helped me with football and my speed, and just keeping me in shape. Once football season was over, in the offseason, I love track. If I could do both sports, I would,” said Lewis.

Lewis’ coach at Trinity Catholic High School, Joseph Sturdivant, said he couldn’t understand why Lewis wasn’t more heavily recruited.

“Every coach that came into my office, that coached college football, I would jump on my desk and be like, ‘Jordan Lewis is going to be one of the best players in college football,’ ” said Sturdivant. “Everybody I’ve got the opportunity to talk to, I said, ‘This kid is going to be phenomenal.’ He’s taking advantage of that opportunity and I am in no way shocked. I mean, I knew he was going to be a heck of a ballplayer.”

Sturdivant said Lewis’ uniqueness, the speed of a world-class sprinter with the strength of an interior defensive lineman, made him a can’t-miss prospect.

“He would take the snap almost away from the quarterback sometimes when he would blitz. That’s how quick he could get to the quarterback in high school,” said Sturdivant. “He was just a very unique player, you don’t see those very much, it’s like a wide receiver playing D-end but built like they need to be.”

Lewis had no preference when it came to attending an HBCU or predominantly white institution. But once he visited campuses, his decision was made.

“Some of the schools that were choosing him were mostly predominantly white. When he visited that campus at Southern, he fell in love with the campus, that’s when he chose an HBCU. He fell in love and changed his mind with every other school he visited. He was going there no matter what,” said Tomorrow Lewis.

Lewis loves Southern for its illustrious culture and prime location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The HBCU vibe and campus life, with the involvement of students and the community, were huge selling points for Lewis. From game days to tailgates, Lewis enjoys this tight-knit community that he gets to call home.

This season, the Jaguars are currently 3-3 and 2-1 in the SWAC. So far this season, he has 22 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.

Lewis will surely be one of the top HBCU athletes who will participate in the HBCU Legacy Bowl, a postseason all-star game that was established to showcase top players, in February 2022.

NFL scouts have noticed his skills. Several have been seen visiting the Jaguars’ practices weekly. Lewis is considered a top 2022 NFL draft prospect, and draft experts say because of Lewis’ size and athleticism, he is likely to play outside linebacker or even safety in the NFL. His speed and his role as a blitzer have impressed scouts.

Graduation is just around the corner for Lewis, a criminal justice major, with his intended commencement in May 2022. When asked about his postgraduation goals, Lewis’ answer was clear and concise: to make it to the NFL.

Cayla Sweazie, a senior multimedia journalism student and student-athlete with Morgan State’s softball team, is from Ashburn, Va. She is a contributing writer for The Spokesman, Morgan State’s student newspaper, and is on the masthead of the digital Unapologetic & Pure Magazine, a site by young journalists for young readers.