One of the biggest hitters in Oklahoma's storied football history, Ronnell Lewis always felt his best position was linebacker.
Known by his nickname, “The Hammer,” Lewis will have the opportunity to return to his favorite spot after the Detroit Lions selected him in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday with the 125th overall selection.
“I like standing up, being more aware of how a play is developing,” Lewis said. “I can play both. But I'm more comfortable (at linebacker) than having my hand in the dirt. I can't tell you how excited I am.”
The Lions are expected to play Lewis at outside linebacker, although there's some debate Lewis might be more productive as an undersized (6-foot-2, 253 pounds) defensive end.
What's not up for debate is the former eight-man star from Dewar's raw talent. He ran a 4.66 at the NFL Combine, posted a 31-inch vertical leap and recorded 36 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
The challenge for Lewis is relearning the linebacker position after playing defensive end the past two seasons.
His freshman season, he was a backup linebacker. That was the year he became a fan favorite, when he routinely delivered smashing hits on kickoff coverage.
But OU coaches felt Lewis fit best in their scheme at defensive end. They experimented the following spring and permanently moved him during two-a-days.
Lewis was productive. He started four games his sophomore season, nine his junior year before a sprained knee and academic issues ended his career early, forcing him to miss the Insight Bowl.
“Learning the playbook might be a little bit of a challenge, but I'll work at it,” Lewis said. “I feel I can pick it up quickly. It's where I prefer. I've played it before. Playing physical comes natural for me. Without having to worry about school, I can focus on what I need to do.”
School was a challenge for Lewis. It was a hot topic during two-a-days. For more than a month, there were questions whether Lewis would be academically eligible.
“I did struggle with school, which made it hard for me sometimes,” Lewis said. “But in the NFL it's a job. It's all you do. It's up to me. Nobody is going to drag me out of bed. I need to know that playbook inside and out.
“This means a lot to me. I come from a family that struggled. I was the first one to go to college. I want to support my family and see them happy.”
An NFL contract will help Lewis provide for his two sons, David, age 1, and Braylon, who turns 4 in June. His parents never married. He has one sister, four stepsisters and two stepbrothers.
“Those two boys need me to hold up my responsibilities,” Lewis said. “I want to be a good Dad, a good role model. I don't want to let them down. I want to try and make sure everyone is taken care of. But some of them will have to hold up their end, not just rely on me.
“I know I'm going to have to learn to say ‘No' to certain people. I want to make sure my family is taken care of. My main focus is on my two boys and me, get my life on track.”
He embraces the opportunity to live every boy's dream.
“I love the game,” Lewis said. “I now need to go to rookie camp and show the coaches they made a good choice, do all the small things to help me get on the field. I feel butterflies because everything seems to be happening all at once.
“When my name was called, it took all that pressure off. This is what you dream about no matter what sport, to play professionally at the highest level. I plan to make the most of it.”