TORONTO — Nik Lewis is one of the faces of a generation that included some all-time great pass catchers.
The 38-year-old was a force during his 14-year CFL career, hauling in next to every ball thrown his way during his time with the Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Alouettes.
On Tuesday, Lewis received a well-deserved call to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
“The funny thing is, two days before I got the call, me and my dad were talking about it,” Lewis told Donnovan Bennett on the latest episode of The Waggle Presented by Sport Clips. “I said that I think I did enough to get in. When you look at the first-ballot Hall of Famers, there’s only 21. Those numbers have kind of gone up lately. Jon Cornish a couple years ago and Hank last year.
“So I knew there was a chance and I was just glad to be able to do it.”
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Lewis is one of the best success stories that the league has ever seen. The Mineral Wells, Texas native attended Southern Arkansas and was a walk-on to the Division II squad. He explained that he was last on the team’s depth chart and was originally slated to play quarterback.
He told the coaches that he wanted to stick with his normal position and it paid dividends, as he was named an All-American in 2003.
A year later, he was making his debut with the Calgary Stampeders, who were the second team he tried out for after college — the other, ironically, was Montreal.
Lewis was named the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2004 after posting 72 catches for 1,045 yards and eight touchdowns. It was a massive year for a young man who was getting used to playing in a big town like Calgary.
“I was 21 when I got to Calgary and turned 22 at training camp. You can’t really understand coming out of college in a small town of 13,000 people, and getting to Calgary where there were 800,000 people and becoming a pro athlete. Everything is different,” Lewis said.
To make it at the pro level, you have to be able to do things that only the top one percent could do. But what Lewis believes set him apart from the pack was his consistency.
“Everybody thinks that a one-handed catch is great — which it is — but most of the time, those things are just reactions,” Lewis said. “But being consistent in your effort, consistent in blocking, being consistent in catching and being consistent in running routes. I think that ultimately that whole approach is what put me over the top.”
Consistent might not quite do Lewis justice. In his first nine seasons north of the border, he finished with at least 1,000 yards each year while also putting up 62 touchdowns over that span.
In the penultimate season of his career, Lewis clipped the 1,000-yard mark once again, getting 1,136 yards while reeling in a career-high 102 catches.
When his career was said and done, Lewis was the league’s all-time leader in receptions with 1,051. He also sits fifth all-time with 13,778 receiving yards. Lewis was a three-time CFL All-Star (2010 to 2012), a six-time Divisional All-Star (2006, 2007, 2010 to 2012, 2016) and also took home the Grey Cup in 2008 and 2014, respectively.
From humble beginnings, Lewis’ meteoric rise in the CFL is a story that dreams are made of, and now, he’s able to take his place alongside the all-time greats in the game.
“I made a video to myself that I used to watch back when days got hard. It was really like, ‘Hey, we’re up here. We’re not going home. We’re about to go and make this team.’ And that’s all my focus was; making the team. And I made the team and was a starter, but I didn’t go up there thinking I was going to start and set records. I made it very simple, step by step. If you take the next step, you’re going to get to the destination. As long as I took steps forward I’d get to my destination. But I can’t take steps in that direction if I’m still trying to go this one way.
“How do you expect to play 10 years in professional football when every year, the coach and the GM’s job is to try and replace you with someone better? And that means you have to go and get better in order to be the best…every day is a competition. So in your own mind, you have to be comfortable in the fire. You’ve got to be a firefighter and be able to withstand that and just go and put it out there every day.
“Just be the best you can every day and prepare yourself and ultimately it becomes fun at some point. But if you’re grinding, grind harder.”
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