FOOTBALL: Lewis proves doubters wrong

It was probably the most memorable art class in MiQuale Lewis' life.

Lewis expected to end his career at Fort Wayne Snider High School with plenty of scholarship offers to play Division I football. He had the tools required to take the next step, and the vision, the speed and the natural ability to find a hole and accelerate through it.

"I was thinking offers were going to rain in left and right," Lewis said. "A couple recruiters had come in. They wanted to see me at camps, so I thought scholarships would come in."

But between Lewis and his dream was his 5-foot-6-inch frame. Ultimately, college coaches couldn't get past his small stature.

Eddie Faulkner, the Ball State University running backs coach, had the same first impression of Lewis. Faulkner had spent his college career as a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne at the University of Wisconsin. He knew college football and Lewis was no feature back in Division I.

"Quale's film was outstanding, but the question was always his size," Faulkner said. "He came to the room and I was like ‘You've got to be kidding me.' Nothing about him looked like a Division I player. I left there without offering him a scholarship."

But when Faulkner returned to his car, he couldn't leave. There was something about Lewis that he couldn't let go of. Returning to the school, Faulkner pulled him out art class.

"I went and sat in my car and said ‘I'm doing the same thing everyone else who's come in here has done,'" Faulkner said. "I knew what he did on film, and I trusted my own two eyes. I got up out the car and went back in and offered him a scholarship."

It would be the only scholarship Lewis ever received.

"I always kept that in the back of my head that they were the first one to offer me," Lewis said. "And the only one to offer me."

The decision probably drew a few raised eyebrows even among Faulkner's fellow coaches.

"At the time there were a whole lot of people who thought I was probably crazy," Faulkner said. "Both on staff and out there. I just believed in him. I don't care how big he is or anything, this kid can play."

There is no question about Lewis' talents anymore. In his Ball State career, Lewis has earned first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors and ranks third on the career rushing list.

Faulkner, now Ball State's offensive coordinator, has coached Lewis throughout his college career. He considers Lewis the best running back he has coached.

"There have been some good ones," Faulkner said. "I'm fortunate to have some depth over there. Up to this point, statistically it's hard to argue with Quale."

Wednesday night's game against Central Michigan University could be the final time Lewis takes the field at Scheumann Stadium. He is a senior in name, but a request for a medical redshirt has been filed with the NCAA. Lewis tore his ACL in the fourth game of the 2007 season and missed the remainder of the year. The outcome of that petition won't be known until December, coach Stan Parrish said.

Lewis is hopeful the request will be honored, even more after finding out he won't be honored with the rest of the class Wednesday night.

"Hopefully that's not my final game," he said. "They might know something I don't know."

Even if Lewis is gone at the end of the season, his accomplishments likely won't be forgotten anytime soon. He rewrote the rushing record book, helping the Cardinals into the national spotlight last year, including a No. 12 national ranking. His play even attracted the notice of Dayne, who is still close with Faulkner.

"I call [Lewis] Stuart Little because he's so small," Dayne said. "But he gets the job done. [Four] weeks ago Stuie went for 300 yards and [Cory Sykes] had 200. I called Eddie and told him ‘them boys are killing.'"

Lewis' teammates are also appreciative of everything he brings to the team. Sykes said Lewis is a leader to all the running backs.

"Quale is an excellent leader and a great teammate," Sykes said. "When I first got here I struggled a lot, and Quale and Nate Davis picked my spirits up."

Sykes is a small tailback as well and uses Lewis as an example.

"It gives me a lot of encouragement that I can do the same thing," he said. "I try and take what he does and apply it to my game."

That certainly worked at Eastern Michigan University this year, when Lewis ran for 301 yards and Sykes added 203. It set an NCAA record for most rushing yards by a pair of teammates and helped prove Lewis' old doubters wrong again.

"I have it on my wall right now for anyone who doesn't want to believe me," Lewis said.

But Lewis has an idea of where hard work can lead. In his first two years at Ball State, he missed 15 games with injuries. Lewis said the recovery from tearing his ACL at the University of Nebraska was the most difficult.

"It took a lot of mental toughness, perseverance," Lewis said. "Being in the training room everyday and I can't be out there to play football, the sport I had played since I was six-years old. I had a lot of mental toughness just to fight through all the adversity and overcome everything and get a chance to play football again."

On that day, in Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, Ball State's trainers had to keep Lewis from going back in the game on his injured knee. This time, it's going to take the NCAA to keep him off the field.


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