The play was so simple when it started. Malcolm Lewis lined up near the left sideline, ran about 10 yards before catching a football that was zipping toward his chest, then began fighting for extra yards as a Georgia Tech defender wrapped him up to attempt a tackle.
What happened next was far from ordinary. Lewis’ body went one way. His left ankle went the other. And Miami coach Al Golden’s reaction to the gruesome scene is something that Lewis cannot exactly remember, but also will not forget, if that makes any sense.
No. 14 Miami (4-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) opens league play Saturday against Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1) in Miami Gardens, Fla. There’s no ill will on Lewis’ part toward the Yellow Jackets – the tackle was clean, a fact no one ever disputed – but having the chance to be able to play against that team again makes this game carry a ton of additional significance to the Miami receiver.
“This is where my season ended last year,” Lewis said. “I’m just waiting to get on the field and show what I can do.”
The fact that he’s been on the field at all this season still might be considered a bit of a surprise, given the severity of what happened to him last year.
His ankle was dislocated, the scene so difficult to watch that even some of Miami’s offensive linemen who were on the field for the play took a peek, turned and started screaming themselves. Golden ran from the sideline, wrapped his arms around Lewis – who was still on the ground – and held him tightly as 50,000 people in the stands largely watched in stunned silence.
“I was right in front of him,” Miami running back Duke Johnson said. “You could tell it was bad. But what coach Golden did, that was more than football. We’re family. That showed how much of a family we really are. You’ve got guys standing next to Malcolm, a coach who came running out and did what he did, we were all there for him.”
Miami won the game 42-36 in overtime, blowing a big early lead and then pulling off a huge late comeback. Those details almost seem ancillary when compared to what Lewis went through that day.
“What a marvel of modern medicine,” Golden said.
Lewis said he doesn’t have much memory of what Golden did that day, or what he said. He’s watched the play a few times, has no desire to see it again, and remains overwhelmed by how much support he got after it all happened.
“I got through it,” Lewis said. “I’m just moving forward now.”
Lewis has just one catch this season, a 9-yarder in Miami’s 77-7 win over Savannah State last month. He’s been on the field a fair amount, though he’s still working his way back up the depth chart.
He may have had the undisputed highlight of spring football, though. In an effort to reward Lewis for such diligence to his rehabilitation, Golden sent him into Miami’s spring game and had a play called for him. Lewis caught a pass that became a 75-yard score in that game, a play where Miami’s defenders had no intention of getting anywhere near him.
He was getting that touchdown, and no one was complaining, either.
“I think what he’s been through is amazing,” said Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, who threw Lewis that pass a year ago. “My job is to get whoever’s open the football, and if Malcolm is open on Saturday, I’ll look for him again.”