By Christina Rivers
Player Name: Keenan Lewis, CB #23
Weight: 208 pounds
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
College: Oregon State
Experience: 4 years
Out of the shadows, Keenan Lewis has stepped to the forefront for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. It hasn’t just been Lewis’ play that has people paying attention to him, but the humble nature of the man. The product of a family of teachers, Lewis was always motivated to make education important in his life. As a youngster growing up in New Orleans, Lewis looked up to his brother, Terral. He followed in his brother’s footsteps, attending O.P. Walker High School. During his brother’s years at the school, Lewis had been the ball boy, and transitioning to the school as a student-athlete was an easy choice for him. At the time LSU recruiter Frank Wilson was the head coach and Lewis knew he would be held to a higher standard, as all students were at Walker. He wore a tie, sat in the first row, showed up early, attended chapel services and did community service. That didn’t change when Terry Wilson took over as head coach of the football team. At Walker, Lewis spent time on the field with three other current NFL players, including a current teammate; Kendrick Lewis (Chiefs), Craig ‘Buster’ Davis (Bills) and Mike Wallace (Steelers). Following Hurricane Katrina, the Lewis family spent time in Houston, Texas, as colleges sought out the hot defensive prospect. While Michigan State and UCLA spent a lot of time and attention on Lewis, he ultimately chose Oregon State.
Lewis explained his choice in college by saying, “I wanted to go somewhere that I felt comfortable.” He gained experience learning from Brandon Browner and Aric Williams. “They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.” Lewis also chose Oregon State due to his closeness with former Archbishop Shaw All-Metro linebacker Charlie Camp who was handling recruiting for the school. Lewis red-shirted the 2004 season, but came on strong in 2005, earning Freshman All-American third-team honors by College Football News and earned the first of four Academic All-Pac 10 Conference honors. “I always did try to make school a priority,” Lewis stated. “Coming from a family of teachers, they encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities. I wanted to show people that I could survive in the real world.” Lewis played in 50 games for Oregon State, recording 117 total tackles, 30 pass-deflections, a sack and five stops for losses. Lewis also gained 72 yards on seven interceptions, one for a touchdown and forced a fumble. He consistently led the team on the field and off, garnering honors for education and sports.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, Lewis wasn’t discouraged that he wasn’t going to play for the hometown New Orleans Saints. Lewis knew that the Steelers were well known for the defense and his physicality would fit well into their scheme. New Orleans never really left Lewis, however, as he joined Ike Taylor (Abramson High) and Ryan Clark (Archbishop Shaw) in the defensive backfield. Friends since they were five-years-old, Lewis and Wallace have a strong connection today. Lewis called Wallace, “one of the toughest guys I know.”
When Lewis began starting for the Steelers, he replaced William Gay who was an unrestricted free agent who signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He started out being called “undisciplined” by Scouts Inc. for a play that forced him to be benched by head coach Mike Tomlin. Lewis had given up an eight-yard catch to Brandon Lloyd, but blew his cool when he kneed Lloyd after the play. In an interview for Steelers.com, Lewis explained why he believes that 2011 was a difference-making year for him. “I think it’s maturity and learning how to be professional,” said Lewis. “It’s that and gaining confidence from my coaches and my teammates that has helped me out.” He cited the fact that being professional included doing things on time, not making excuses and critiquing the bad things in order to become a better player. Lewis said his first two seasons with the Steelers taught him “how to be patient”.
Lewis was signed to a one-year restricted free agent tender on April 16, 2012, and his play since has improved incrementally. Starting the first 11 contests at left cornerback, Lewis earned his first forced forced fumble in the second quarter against DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles, forcing the Eagles to punt. He has 63 total tackles through Week 15 (50 solo) and 21 passes defended. Against Tennessee, Lewis recorded a career-high for passes defended. Against the Ravens in November, Lewis led the team with a career-high ten tackles and three pass breakups. Lewis tied that tackle record the following week at Cleveland. It has only been due to injury that Lewis hasn’t been able to have more than a breakout year.
Married to wife Dannel, the cousin of former Walker teammate and current Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis, Keenan also has a daughter, Kalise. Lewis told Steelers.com, “When it’s one of those days I don’t feel like doing something, I think about my wife and my daughter and I know I have to account for them too.”
Lewis has never forgotten his New Orleans ties. A city that is in constant need of good role models, Lewis has focused his off-the-field charitable giving towards offering youth an example and a chance in life. “We don’t have many role models [in New Orleans]. There’s violence, dropping out of school. You can be something. If you work hard, you can achieve.” Lewis feels that poverty often drives kids to make decisions that can affect their adult lives and has said that role models are important in order to give those children something positive to aim towards. In November, Muriel Lewis told her son about a need at the school where she teaches. Keenan made a donation to the Martin Behrman Charter School of Creative Arts & Sciences’ cheerleading team. While Lewis is well know for visiting area schools during the offseason, he said, “I always try to give back to the kids, give them a chance to live their dream, especially the kids who can’t always participate in after school activities.”
That isn’t to say he doesn’t see the same needs in Pittsburgh. On December 18, Lewis will be hosting the Teen Days of Christmas for the Kids Voice Organization. The event at Games N’ At, Arcade and Party Emporium in Pittsburgh, will give 23 teens a holiday dinner and prizes as well as life lessons. Kids Voice provides full-service advocacy for abused, abandoned, voiceless and vulnerable children.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.