Football: From blue to purple, NU’s Jeremiah Lewis ready to face his former team, Duke, on Saturday


Daily file photo by Jonah Elkowitz

Northwestern runs out of the tunnel onto the field of last season’s clash with Rutgers. Saturday’s game against Duke will be a reunion of sorts for Jeremiah Lewis, but also his first game at Ryan Field as a Wildcat.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staff Writer

Turn on the tape of Northwestern and Duke’s chaotic 2021 matchup and you’ll see a lot of action: a 27-0 first half lead for the Blue Devils, a roller coaster display under center from the Wildcats and eight turnovers between both teams.

Fast forward to the end of the first quarter and Hunter Johnson throws the first of his three interceptions of the game.

Johnson attempts a quick throw to the left side of the field, targeting wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. — except his pass falls straight into the arms of a Duke defender. It’s clear there was a miscommunication between Johnson and Robinson Jr., who had cut inside on the route while the former NU quarterback threw the ball outside. 

The beneficiary of Johnson’s second turnover on the day? A defensive back from Lewisville, Texas, named Jeremiah Lewis.

In modern college football, a lot can shift in a single offseason, and Lewis’ transition to Evanston is the example at the center of this week’s matchup. The redshirt senior turned in his No. 39 blue-and-white jersey in exchange for a No. 9 in purple-and-white last spring. He’ll take the field opposite his former teammates at Ryan Field Saturday, now hoping to end the Cats’ three-game losing streak to Duke.

“I played with most of those guys for three years,” Lewis said. “From a personnel standpoint, I know the guys, and to their point they know me too. I’m sure a lot of us have changed in the last year, so it should be interesting to see how everything’s put together.”

In an era of significant change in college football — highlighted by shifting media rights deals, conference realignment and the transfer portal — Lewis is one of thousands of players who decided a switch in scenery felt necessary.

He found his new home in Evanston, but made his debut across the pond in the Cats’ comeback win over Nebraska in Dublin.

“The name of the game has changed in college football and this was the right time for (Lewis) to be here and the right fit,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For his first Big Ten game, I thought he played really well, learned a ton and (am) just really glad that he’s here.”

Lewis, who played as a cornerback at Duke but operated at safety for NU during a portion of the season opener, finished the game with six total tackles, including four solo, and one pass defended. He also contributed to the instrumental first half fumble recovery by junior linebacker Greyson Metz, which kept the game within one score.

Defensive backs coach Matt MacPherson echoed some of Fitzgerald’s statements about Lewis’ play against the Cornhuskers, but said the impending matchup against his former school hasn’t affected his preparation.

“He’s a pretty motivated guy to begin with and I think he’s approaching it the right way,” MacPherson said. “This is just another game. And it’s about doing your job, putting your eyes where they’re supposed to be and winning your battles.”

Lewis appeared in 38 games as a Blue Devil, tallying four interceptions and 84 tackles in more than 1,700 snaps. A four-year career in Durham, North Carolina, afforded him an opportunity to play ACC football while also earning a degree from one of the country’s top schools.

Now, the conference, school and coaching staff have all changed, but as he continues to get more comfortable as a Cat, Lewis is not letting the prospect of playing against some familiar faces impact his performance.

“I’m just trying to go day by day, but come Saturday, by kickoff, I’m sure it’ll feel a little different,” Lewis said. “But I’m locked in and I’m with Northwestern now … I’m definitely just trying to win and go 1-0 this week.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

Related Stories:

— Football: From separated shoulders to contested catches, Gordon and Navarro bring physicality to passing game

— Ready for redemption: Northwestern’s offense looks to show its improvement against 2021 opponent Duke

— Football: Northwestern seeks to maintain momentum in home opener against Duke