Darren Lewis, Texas A&M's All-American running back, is no Joe Namath. As a football player, he prefers being seen and not heard. His idea of a good game is 30 carries, 200 yards and no interviews.
This is a football player who asked the publicity office NOT to make a poster in his image. He doesn't make predictions. He's never hogged a microphone in his life. Elaborating to a question is when he adds "sir," to "yes."He's shy about everything but running over linebackers. Which is his problem. If he didn't have a habit of ripping apart opposing defenders, he wouldn't have to talk about it afterward.
When you've rushed for more than 5,000 yards in your college career - one of only five players to do that, ever - and when you've finished your senior season as the No. 1 rusher in the country, you're going to get noticed even if you'd prefer otherwise.
Lewis is by far the most in-demand Aggie as the BYU-Texas A&M Holiday Bowl approaches here tonight. People want to know how it feels to join Dorsett, White, Walker and Griffin in the 5,000-yard club. They want to know if he's distressed over placing only eighth in the 1990 Heisman Trophy balloting. They want to know if he's looking for vindication when he squares off against Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer of BYU in tonight's game.
What he's really looking for is a little peace and quiet.
He isn't impolite. He answers the questions honestly. He says he wasn't a contender in the Heisman race because "I had two horrible games" (one against LSU, when he was ejected early in the second quarter, and one against Arkansas). He says he's flattered to even be mentioned in the same sentence with the likes of Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett. And he says he's got nothing but respect for Detmer, who "deserved the Heisman."
But this is no threat to Johnny Carson. Darren Lewis would clearly prefer that his feet do the talking.
"We started a Heisman campaign for him this year," says Alan Cannon, A&M's sports information director. "We planned to make a poster, and he asked us not to do it."
"He's just a private person," says Texas A&M Coach R.C. Slocum, who recruited Lewis to A&M when he was a highly coveted high school star in Dallas. "He hasn't changed over the years. When he was being recruited he wasn't one of those guys who cared about taking visits. I remember he had one scheduled to Ohio State, and he didn't go. He just didn't want to."
Being the introvert that he is, Lewis confesses he isn't altogether comfortable with the kind of attention he's getting prior to the final football game of his college career - a game that shapes up as a classic pass (Detmer) vs. run (Lewis) confrontation.
"To tell you the truth, I prefer sneaking up on people," he said Friday prior to A&M's practice. "I'd rather surprise them."
Lewis's history as a runner - superlative as it is - reflects this penchant for anonymity. When he was a largely unheralded freshman he gained 668 yards for a 5.3 yard-per-carry average. The next year he busted loose to a 1,692-yard season with a 5.5 yard-per-carry average.
Suddenly, the college football world took notice. Lewis was named second-team All-American - his 1,692 yards set a school record and was the second-highest total in the country to Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders - and he was regarded as a frontrunning Heisman candidate coming into his junior year in 1989.
He started badly as a junior. He gained just 55, 52 and 45 yards in the first three games and was quickly shooed out of Heisman Watches around the country.
Anonymous once again, he rushed for more than 800 yards in the next six games before hurting a knee and missing the final two games of the season. At that, he totaled 961 yards for the year - plenty to get him within reach of the 5,000-yard plateau in 1990.
This season, he effectively dashed any Heisman chances in the fourth game, on television against LSU, when he was ejected from the game for throwing an elbow at a Tiger tackler. He left with just 31 yards on eight carries.
Typically, he responded the next week with 232 yards against Texas Tech. He went on to a 1,691-yard season (just one yard shy of his record-setting total as a sophomore) and a 5,012-yard career. In his final regular season game he had 150 yards on 25 carries against No. 3-ranked Texas.
It's made him the country's top running back coming into bowl season and has made him a wanted man this week in San Diego.
For BYU, that could be the good news. Clearly, this is not one who is comfortable in limelight. Then again, Lewis himself says, "All the hype here this week is making me so nervous I'm working harder than ever. I mean, there's going to be a lot of people watching. And who would want to go out not doing their very best?"