By Christian Hince | May 1, 2023
Dion Lewis with the Patriots during the 2017 season.
Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images
During his time in football, ex-NFL running back Dion Lewis has been known as a Super Bowl champion, the Big East offensive player of the year, and as of the past month, Assistant Running Backs Coach at the University at Albany.
“Being retired, being away from the game, I missed it a lot,” Lewis said. “It’s a great opportunity here that Coach [Greg] Gattuso has given me.”
There’s nothing random about Lewis’ addition to the UAlbany brass. A born and raised Albany native, his connection to the football program goes beyond local proximity.
Playing for the University of Pittsburgh from 2009-10, Lewis was just a door down from Panthers’ defensive line coach, Greg Gattuso. “I hung around a lot of the d-linemen anyway, so I got to know him pretty well,” said Lewis of the now Great Dane head coach.
When Gattuso heard the former Pitt standout was interested in coaching, he invited him along. “So far he’s [Lewis] been great and it seems like he’s really enjoying it and we’re really enjoying having him here,” Gattuso said.
Lewis set the Big East rushing record in his freshman season and wrapped up his two years as a Panther with 30 rushing touchdowns and over 2,800 yards rushing but struggled early on in the NFL after getting picked in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. After handling kick return duties and taking a few carries in his rookie campaign, he saw his role shrink the following year before being traded to Cleveland in 2013. Lewis then missed the entire season with a fractured fibula before getting cut after the 2014 preseason.
Despite briefly being picked up by the Colts shortly thereafter, he was released seven days later. When the Patriots signed him to a future contract the following December, Lewis hadn’t played a snap of in-season football for over two years. To keep his career alive, Lewis had another roster cut to make ahead of the 2015 season.
“You never know when your opportunity’s gonna come, so when my opportunity did come, I took full advantage,” Lewis said.
Fitting into the team’s 53-man roster, he posted his best campaign yet in 2015 with over 600 yards from scrimmage in seven games. Then the following year he got a ring after New England’s legendary comeback in Super Bowl LI. While injuries limited Lewis to seven regular season games during each of his first two seasons with the Patriots, he broke through in his first full NFL campaign in 2017. He led all Patriots rushers with 896 yards, totaling just over 1100 yards from scrimmage and scoring nine all-purpose touchdowns.
Lewis hopes he can use this redemption story to give lessons on opportunity for his players.
“You don’t know how many reps you're gonna get in practice or when you're gonna get in the game,” he said. “But when you do, you want to make the most out of it because you don't want to go in there and be unprepared.”
While much of Lewis’ life on and off the field has been in the northeast, a change of scenery came when he signed with Tennessee in 2018. He enjoyed the warmer weather and another season of strong on-field volume, but a little bit of homesickness came from being around 1,000 miles outside of Albany.
“Being that far away from my family was definitely tough, because before that [it] was always [a] three, four hour drive away,” Lewis said.
Back home and back in football, he’s eagerly learning a new way of the sport, he specifically shouted out offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose and running backs coach Jordan Olavsky.
“They've been a great help to me and I just want to continue to learn from them and pick their brains as much as I can,” said Lewis.
With 2022 leading rusher Todd Sibley graduating, filling Sibley’s absence will be an early task for UAlbany’s RB room.
“All of our backs, they bring something a little different to the table,” Lewis said. “Some are bigger power guys, some are shifter guys.”
Lewis is patiently looking to improve at UAlbany, and he hopes he can inspire the same mindset within the players he coaches.
“Trying to be better every day, 1% better every day,” he said. “I think that's what it's about, and I'm just grateful that those guys embrace me and believe in me.”