By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Cougars’ defensive lineman Taylor Lewis was close to giving up football forever just a few years ago. However, thanks to a revival at College of the Canyons, Lewis is on his way to play under the bright SEC lights at Arkansas.
Lewis is one of nearly 30 Cougars heading to the next level after their 8-3 season.
Lewis was born and raised in Chicago. The Razorback wouldn’t start playing football until he was 13 years old, noting the game as an escape.
The Windy City native looked for a way to avoid gang violence while also dealing with anger management all his life. He finally found a healthy escape through football.
“Growing up in Chicago you can grow into the wrong things,” said Lewis. “Football was my escape from everything bad. Football was my escape and helped me battle through my emotions.”
Lewis kept finding his way back to the game no matter what happened. He was kicked out of high school twice, forcing him into the alternative school route. Lewis then attended Iowa Central Community College before he ended up at COC. The Razorback nearly gave up playing the game he loved after things didn’t work out at Iowa Central. He eventually found his way to the Santa Clarita Valley where he found a renewed love for the game.
“It was like a dream come true,” said Lewis. “It was the first time I was happy playing football. I didn’t have to worry about other things going on. These coaches did a great job of keeping me grounded.”
The defensive lineman had previous trust issues with coaches but learned his COC coaches had his back, something he’s never experienced before. All the pieces fell together for a great freshman year for the big man.
Lewis picked up some offers after his freshman year at COC in 2019 but was one of thousands of collegiate athlete casualties who lost opportunities due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, the defensive lineman kept working through the elongated offseason and would be ready for the next opportunity, not knowing if he’d get another one.
“I think physically he got a lot stronger,” said COC defensive coordinator Dan Corbet. “He dedicated himself in the weight room. He matured a lot being out here on his own. He worked hard and changed his circumstances.”
Lewis was a key part of a strong Cougar defense that allowed just 17.2 points a game.
The defensive star said his defense had been great all year but didn’t realize how great until their game with East Los Angeles Community College. The Cougars would lose the game 10-7 but the defense played lights-out.
“Even though we lost the game, defensively we showed out,” said Lewis. “We dominated. It woke us up and showed us how good we were defensively.”
COC’s season would end earlier than the team expected after they dropped the CCCAA quarterfinal 20-10 to Golden West College.
Corbet was still proud of his team’s play and Lewis’ dedication in the offseason.
“Taylor definitely blossomed with us,” said Corbet. “He worked very hard. He stayed very dedicated during COVID when a lot of other guys struggled to stay focused.”
Lewis has also spent time coaching the Santa Clarita Warriors, a local youth football team. The defensive star said Warriors quarterback William Stone is one of his heroes and bravest people he’s ever met.
Stone’s father, head coach Hal Stone, died before the season. William still went out and played with the Warriors, wowing the coaching staff who took him under their wings.
Lewis fielded about 20 offers but felt the choice was clear in choosing Arkansas. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 295-pound lineman clearly has the size to play in the SEC and hopefully one day in the NFL.
“That’s a place I’m needed versus than just wanted,” said Lewis. “There’ll be immediate impact and immediate production.”
Arkansas is coming off a 9-4 season after four straight years under .500. Lewis will aim to continue the Razorbacks’ success as he enters his first season of NCAA action in one of the most competitive conferences in American sports.
Lewis is doing everything in his power to make it into the pros. He thinks his game doesn’t mimic any one player but rather takes a little bit of some of his favorites like Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Perrion Winfrey.
He added: “My goal is to get to the league and take every step I can to get there.”