The New Orleans Saints hosted Tulane University's pro day at their indoor practice facility on Thursday, March 21.
The wistfulness in the voice of Donnie Lewis Jr. was evident.
On Thursday during Tulane’s pro day at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, the former Green Wave defensive back was thrust into the role of the kid sitting at the window, peering outside while his friends were allowed to play.
After a four-year career at Tulane during which he posted 160 tackles (129 solo), seven interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 37 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a half-sack, Lewis earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. But during practice for that January all-star game, he suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot (a break between the base and middle part of the fifth metatarsal).
Gone was participating in that game. Gone was participating in Tulane’s pro day.
But he still was present, cheering on his teammates, administering advice where possible.
“It’s tough for me, especially,” said Lewis, who played cornerback, safety and nickelback during his final season at Tulane, and ranked third nationally with 15 passes defended. He was named second-team All-American Athletic Conference.
“Everything was going all good, and then everything just went left,” he said. “So I’ve just got to have faith at this point. I feel I was going to go to the (NFL) Combine, so I had to miss the Combine and I had to miss pro day. So I personally feel that I can’t even get that extra boost to show people. But I’ll keep my faith in God, let it all play out, be patient.”
The injury was expected to sideline him six to eight weeks.
“Within about the next two, three weeks, they said I’ll be back feeling even better than I was before,” he said. “As of right now I’m just continuing to go to physical therapy, and start back working out, gradually getting back to where I use to be.”
Still, Lewis understands the privilege it was to be invited to the East-West Shrine Game.
“It was very special being invited to one of those games, seeing that people have faith in me to give me an opportunity to play on a higher level,” he said. “I’m the type of guy to seize my moment, seize my opportunities and take advantage of my opportunities."
“The East-West Shrine Game was a great experience. I was out there for a couple of days. It wasn’t all bad. Aside from the foot, everything else was great – got to meet with the coaches, I got to make a bunch of friends just out there playing ball, having fun.”
The experiences that were to be gained and shared Thursday we done so by his teammates, 11 of whom were slated to be put through the paces – heights, weights, bench presses, broad jumps, 40-yard dashes, etc. – during pro day. Joining the Tulane contingent were a combined 14 players from Nicholls State, McNeese State and Louisiana universities.
Among the Green Wave participants was receiver Teddy Encalade, who played at Belle Chasse High and started every game his final three seasons. Encalade caught 119 passes for 1,957 yards and 15 touchdowns during that stretch.
“It was fun, coming out here showing my skills to the scouts,” he said. “It’s a grateful opportunity for me. I felt like I could have done better in everything I did, but you’ve just got to be grateful. An attitude of gratitude."
“I was nervous, pretty much, a week before. But I would always think to myself, ‘I trained for this, so I shouldn’t be nervous.’ And then when I got out here, my teammates are some really good teammates, so they take that nervousness out of you quick. It feels good to be around those guys and in the situation I’m in.”
Encalade said he believes he could have been more productive during his Tulane tenure, but that he’s confident in his abilities and is eager to showcase them.
“I know what I can do and I’m ready to prove myself to anybody,” he said.