|Cal Lewellyn picked off seven passes as a freshman at Centre and teams have known to avoid him since.
Centre athletics photo
By Brian Lester
Cal Lewellyn isn’t the player opposing quarterbacks want to throw in the direction of on Saturday afternoons. He’s become the cover corner they do their best to avoid.
An impact player the moment he arrived on campus -- the three-time All-SAA selection and 2016 league newcomer of the year picked off seven passes as a freshman -- he’s managed to come up with just five interceptions over the last two seasons.
It’s not a knock against him. His skills as a defender in the secondary haven’t diminished. Teams just do their best to stay away from him. It’s why he has only two three interceptions this year and just eight pass breakups. Two years ago, he broke up 17 passes. Last year he had 12.
“It’s nice I guess having that respect, but I still have to stay focused on every play,” Lewellyn said. “In my mind, every play is a deep ball on me.”
After all, the junior standout knows that a pass could be made in his direction at any moment.
“The thought is that the next pass is coming to my guy,” Lewellyn said. “Basically, any play could be the difference in the game. I’m always trying to make a big play for my team. That motivates me.”
Lewellyn was causing problems for the Washington & Jefferson offense Saturday afternoon in a first-round playoff game the Colonels won 54-13. He spent the day glued to Andrew Wolf, the Presidents’ top receiving threat. He caught one pass for two yards. He came into the game with more than 1,300 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.
“Cal played very well, but I’m not taking anything away from the receiver he covered. He’s very good,” Centre head coach Andy Frye said. “I’m just thrilled for Cal. He handled the moment we put him in.”
He’ll be put in even bigger moments this upcoming Saturday, when Centre plays at defending national champion Mount Union in the second round of the playoffs. But that’s just par for the course for Lewellyn, who is quick to credit his teammates for his success, particularly fellow corner John Wilson, a senior and someone Lewellyn has long looked up to.
“I practice every day with the mindset to get better. I’ve improved being around guys like John and other leaders on our defense,” Lewellyn said. “It’s pretty easy to have that mindset when the whole team is encouraging you and working hard.”
Frye agrees that Wilson has had a positive impact on the performance of Lewellyn. He added that being able to go up against great receivers in practice, including one of the best in the SAA in Jaylon Hibbs, doesn’t hurt either.
“He has a very good mentor in John Wilson. The two work very well together,” Frye said. “And those guys get to go against a good wide receiver corps in practice. They get to play against guys that can get off the line of scrimmage and do a good job of running routes. Competition heightens your level of play.”
Frye always saw a lot of potential in Lewellyn, who plays a position that isn’t easy to recruit for at the NCAA Division III level.
“I’m not surprised by how well he has performed,” Frye said. “Early on you could see he had a lot of skills you look for in a corner, and in D3, good corners are tough to find. If you are a good corner, you are usually on scholarship. Cal was a tweener at the time we were recruiting him and John was an option quarterback that we made into a corner. It’s all about how you develop them. One thing Cal has done well is work hard. He’s always trying to get better.”
Lewellyn said he focuses a lot on being as consistent as possible. He also knows that as a corner, you have to clear your mind quickly regardless of what happens on the play.
“Whether you do something good or bad, you can’t remember it. It’s really about focusing on the next play and overcoming any adversity you face,” Lewellyn said. “You have to stay positive and look forward to the next play.”
Frye said Lewellyn has perfected that skill.
“You wouldn’t know if something good or bad happened on the play when it comes to Cal,” Frye said. “Cal just goes out and plays the next play. Good corners have a really short memory.”
Centre (10-1) has held its last five opponents to 20 points or fewer and Frye said that is a credit to his defensive staff, including coordinator Carter Conley, defensive line coach Jeff Collett and defensive backs coach Warren Wilson.
“I have to commend those guys for getting our guys ready to play,” Frye said. “Our job is to teach and demand and the players’ job is to prepare and perform. Our defense has gotten better every week.”
The defense will have to be at its best this week as the Purple Raiders are the No. 1 team in the nation. They welcome the challenge.
“I think our players are ecstatic about the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country,” Frye said. “We are confident and feel like we are a pretty good football team. You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. You want the chance to play the best.”
Mount Union is averaging close to 500 yards per game, including 255 through the air, and that will prolific air attack will put a secondary that Frye believe is one of the best in the country to the test.
Lewellyn is ready for it.
“It’s funny I was talking with friends earlier about what it would be like to play against them and now we have that chance,” Lewellyn said. “We are real confident. We feel good about this team. This is the best team since I’ve been here. We’re thrilled about playing them Saturday.”
Frye said that while the task in front of his team is a daunting one, the chance to still be playing football is something special at this time of the year.
“One of our goals this year was to win the conference championship and compete for a national championship. You can’t compete for a national championship if you aren’t in the playoffs,” Frye said. “This is what you play for. For the chance to extend your season. I have 27 seniors who won’t play football after this season is over. I want them to enjoy this moment and have no regrets.”
Lewellyn is motivated to play his best for the seniors on the team, especially Wilson, who he has grown close to over the last three seasons.
“I’m going to be locked in and focused,” Lewellyn said. “This is why we play football. To try to win championships. Everyone has to be focused on doing their jobs. If we prepare and execute, we will have a chance. It’s awesome to still be playing. I’m looking forward to the game.”