Throughout the past month of the Cal Poly football team’s season, Kyle Lewis has found a way to carve out his own role in an offense that ranks among the best in the Big Sky Conference.
There’s no secret to what the Mustangs want to accomplish when they have the ball, and yet opposing defenses have trouble slowing the triple-option attack each week. Of the 606 total plays Cal Poly has run in seven games this fall, 520 of those have been rushing attempts — an average of nearly 86 percent.
For Lewis, a chiseled 6-foot, 205-pound sophomore, building trust with the Mustangs’ coaching staff has led to an upturn in production during the month of October. Despite the crowded fray of capable ball-carriers at Cal Poly — including preseason All-Americans Kori Garcia (106 carries) and Chris Brown (127), and standout fullback Joe Protheroe (139) — Lewis has proven to be a big-play threat.
Against No. 14 Portland State on Saturday, Lewis piled up a career-best 201 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns in a game the Mustangs played without Brown, the Big Sky leader in rushing yards.
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The sophomore from San Marcos scored on a 57-yard halfback pass from Kory Fox late in the third quarter, and added a 29-yard scoring run in the closing minutes to even the score at 35. He also returned five kickoffs for 89 yards in his best statistical performance of the season.
“With these coaches I feel like it’s definitely a trust thing,” Lewis said. “That’s what they mentioned a lot from when I first got here. Once they trust you, I feel like things go a lot easier for both of us. They can trust that they can call a play and you’re going to execute it.”
The breakout performance against the Vikings had been building over the past few weeks.
After not traveling with the team to Montana State on Sept. 26 — a 45-28 defeat, Cal Poly’s most lopsided loss of the season — Lewis rushed for 52 yards and scored his first touchdown of the year the following week in a dominant victory over Idaho State. Against Eastern Washington the next week, Lewis averaged 12 yards on three touches in a 42-41 overtime loss to the three-time defending conference champions.
In the six games he’s played this season, Lewis has tallied 18 rushes, three receptions and seven kickoff returns. Making the most of those few opportunities, Lewis averages 12.5 yards per touch and scores once per 9.3 touches.
Without a defined role in fall camp, Lewis spent time practicing at both slotback positions and proved to be a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield. He most often spells starter DJ Peluso at the S-back (block-heavy) and possesses similar speed to Garcia at the W-back spot.
“Whether it’s kick return or I’m playing S or W or I’m catching a screen out at receiver, I just need to be ready for when they call my name,” Lewis said. “That’s just my mindset.”
During his standout prep career at San Diego’s San Marcos High, Lewis said he was recruited mostly as a strong safety, a position he excelled at with uncommon size and strength for a 17-year-old. When Jason Texler took over as head coach during Lewis’ senior year, he moved over to offense and compiled more than 750 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
“A lot of the schools stopped talking to me because I wasn’t playing defense anymore,” Lewis said. “But I remember one time I played eight positions in one game.”
Lewis’ prep track career includes personal-best times in the 100 meters of 10.88 seconds and 21.88 in the 200, both of which broke San Marcos school records. He chose Cal Poly over Idaho State, South Dakota, Campbell, Azusa Pacific, Menlo College and Pasadena College.
With a genuine passion for weightlifting and some favorable genetics, Lewis worked to develop a college-ready body by the time he arrived in San Luis Obispo. Once his father, Gerald Lewis, gave him the green light to begin seriously lifting as a ninth-grader, “it was a wrap from there. I just live in the weight room.”
“I told myself at a young age I never wanted to look normal,” Lewis added. “I put in an extreme amount of work in the offseason. I’m probably in the weight room two times a day, for five day a week.”
A mainstay in the gym working with Cal Poly head strength and conditioning coach Chris Holder, Lewis often shows flashes of being one of the fastest and strongest players on the roster. During a long run against Idaho State, Lewis made a move toward the sideline and threw a Bengals defender to the ground with one hand, drawing a big reaction from teammates on the Mustangs’ bench.
It was the type of play Lewis hopes will become routine.
“It makes me happy when the coaches are able to open it up more and give me more opportunities,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to do this. It’s just me having to build the confidence with them and showing them, ‘Look, I can do this.’ ”