Texas A&M center Patrick Lewis (61) prepares to snap the ball against Texas in a 2011 game in College Station, Texas. He's an undrafted rookie free agent with the Green Bay Packers. File/Getty Images
Patrick Lewis and his teammates heard all the naysayers loud and clear.
The critics who openly questioned how a Texas A&M football program that couldn’t win consistently in the Big 12 could suddenly expect to thrive in the West Division of the powerful Southern Conference?
Coming off a disappointing 7-6 season that ultimately cost former Packers coach Mike Sherman his job as head coach, the Aggies faced an uphill battle entering a SEC West Division that featured Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn.
Still, Lewis wasn’t worried.
Sure, the Aggies lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the NFL draft, but Texas A&M’s second-year starting center could see a fire igniting behind him in the 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman quarterback waiting in the wings, Johnny Manziel.
It was in Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense that Manziel transformed from an under-recruited FBS quarterback to Johnny Football, leading the Aggies to an 11-2 season in which they handed eventual national champion Alabama its only loss.
The Aggies destroyed Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl, finished the season ranked third in the nation in total offense and scoring while Manziel wound up winning the Heisman Trophy.
Lewis had a front row seat for all of it, starting all 13 games.
“He was really gifted as a young man, a guy his age as a freshman to do some of the things he did,” said Lewis, who signed with the Packers shortly after the draft as an undrafted free agent.
“The stuff that he demanded, he wanted us to be good. He wanted to be great, so he pushed us to that level. He did what he had to do and we did what we had to do and we just came together as one and made it happen.”
Lewis, 22, started 48 games over the course of his career at Texas A&M, first at guard before moving over to center his junior year in 2011.
For all luster of playing in the SEC, the 6-foot-1, 311-pound wasn’t holding his breath about getting selected in the NFL draft two weeks ago. He turned a blind eye once the seventh round came around, knowing undrafted free agency would be his ticket.
Originally, Lewis planned to reunite with Sherman and Tannehill in Miami, but soon after the Dolphins called near the draft’s conclusion, so did Green Bay.
Lewis felt close to Sherman, but the opportunity with the Packers was too good to pass on after watching undrafted free agents like Don Barclay, Greg Van Roten and Evan Dietrich-Smith all find spots on the team’s 53-man roster.
So one season after snapping balls to college football’s best player, Lewis signed on to join the Packers’ bolstered offensive line looking to protect 2011 MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked 51 times last season.
“It was very difficult picking Green Bay over Miami because you feel loyalty to those coaches,” Lewis said. “I was with them for three years in the same offense. I probably wouldn’t have needed to learn anything new, so it was hard telling them no. The situation that presented itself here seemed a lot better than Miami at the time, so I’m here.”
Having starting his college career in Sherman’s pro-style offense and finishing it in Sumlin’s spread, Lewis brings unique credentials to the Packers, whose offense features a mix of both elements.
In Green Bay, Lewis has no qualms lining up wherever they want him, but doesn’t plan on ditching that chip he carried on his shoulder blocking for Manziel.
“We did a lot of big things even though people were like we wouldn’t last in the SEC, but that was the story of our lives,” Lewis said.
“Everybody told us we couldn’t do something so we stayed together, grinded really hard and we showed we could win ball games and that’s what we did.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.