When you entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, and you’ve toiled in obscurity for four years, and you’re on your fourth team, and you’ve finally earned a starting quarterback job – one of only 32 on the planet – it’s going to take a major injury to get you out of the lineup.
So it was Wednesday with 25-year-old Thad Lewis, who shrugged off a sprained foot suffered against Cincinnati on Sunday and participated almost fully with the first-string offense in the Bills’ workout at One Bills Drive.
Now consider the fact that Lewis is scheduled to start Sunday against his hometown team, the Miami Dolphins. Lewis grew up a mere 4 miles from Sun Life Stadium, a 10-minute drive straight up NW 27th Avenue from his childhood home.
Nothing short of a hurricane would stop Lewis from taking that field when the Bills face their AFC East rivals.
“It means a lot playing in the NFL, period,” Lewis said. “It’s just extra to get to go home and play in front of people you know and people that know you. It is a great opportunity.”
“You dream as a child to obviously get to this level, but to be starting is a dream come true, so you just take it in stride and try to make the best of the situation,” Lewis said.
Lewis grew up a Dolphins fan. He watched every game on TV. He went to one Dolphins game as a kid. He was born in 1987, and he has some recollection of the Bills-Dolphins rivalry games pitting Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.
“Oh yeah, I definitely remember those,” he said. “Growing up in Miami, watching ‘Dan the Man,’ which we called him, that was his nickname where I was from. You loved watching the guys playing when they come down to sunny Miami. Those were the great old days.”
Lewis said he was a fan of any top QB, including Troy Aikman and Steve Young. But one QB whom he especially admired was Rohan Davey, who lived around the corner from him.
Davey, nine years older than Lewis, preceded Lewis as a star QB at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School. Davey went on to star at Louisiana State and spent three years as a backup to Tom Brady with the New England Patriots.
“I’ll never forget he actually paid for me to go to the Manning Passing Academy when I was in high school,” Lewis said, referring to a week-long summer camp run annually in Louisiana by NFL QBs Peyton and Eli Manning.
Lewis said he has about 15 tickets for Sunday’s game. His mom, Renee, will be there.
She lives in Dallas now and works for Southwest Airlines. He has one brother, older by nine years, named Nakia. He will be there. So will plenty of friends, including his high school coach, Jerry Hughes.
“He is exceptional, and I mean that with capital letters, an exceptional young man,” Hughes said Wednesday from Key West, Fla. “There are not many like him.
“Not only was he an athlete, but he also was a coach on the field,” Hughes said. “You’d go out on the field intending to tell him to start out practice throwing hitches and slants, and he was already doing it. The biggest thing is he had such respect from his teammates. … I didn’t have to say anything. He’d step in and say it before I said it.”
Lewis never played at Sun Life Stadium in high school, but he started there as a senior for Duke University against the University of Miami. Lewis passed for 303 yards in a 37-20 loss. He said he will not be feeling any extra nerves playing in Miami.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “I’m pretty calm.”
Lewis exceeded the expectations of most by passing for two touchdowns and running for one in the 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals last Sunday.
He was walking around in a boot after the game. But Wednesday he was moving around pretty well, perhaps favoring the injured foot slightly.
“Feels great,” he said. “I was able to get out there today, move around and do everything I normally do, so it feels great.”
“No limitations at all,” he said. “I did a great job treating it the last couple days so I was able to go. Felt great. I didn’t miss a beat today.”