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Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis

If you ask Thaddeus Lewis to talk about himself for just a couple of minutes, be prepared to hear a lot about his coaches and teammates, and hardly anything about Thaddeus Lewis.

Ask the senior about his aspirations to become an NFL quarterback and he'll acknowledge them, but only after assuring you that building a winning football program at Duke is his first priority this season.

But while Lewis's quiet demeanor and noticeable air of humility might make it hard to get him to sing his own praises, they've never detracted from his desire or his ability to lead the Blue Devil squad.

"Thad is more one of those guys that leads by example," said tight end Brett Huffman, a redshirt junior. "He'll talk and rally when the time is right, but I'd say he'd much rather go out there and do it on the field than scream and all that hoopla.

"He's more of a doer than a talker. In the four years I've been here with Thad, I'd say he's always been like that."

When considering the arc of Lewis's career as a Blue Devil, the "leading by example" theme is certainly recurring. At Duke, there was no choice for Lewis but to prove himself through his play rather than through his words. After the first game of his freshman year, Lewis was handed the reins to his football team and he has remained the starter ever since.

"Being the senior quarterback or just the quarterback in general, a lot comes along with that title," Lewis said. "What my job is is to bring these guys along and let them know what the program is all about and be the example.

"That way, when you leave, you leave an example to the younger guys that come in. And that way more people can know what this program is about-which is a pursuit of excellence."

Maybe Lewis is so set on being an example for his younger teammates because he was thrown into the fire so early without a lead to follow. The Blue Devils won just once in Lewis's first 23 games. But instead of playing with a chip on his shoulder or getting down on his own abilities, Lewis has fully accepted his role as Duke's unquestioned leader.

Three years and over 30 starts later, Lewis enters a senior season in which it seems all the stars have aligned for a successful run.

"He's been our starting quarterback for four years, which in D-I football is a rarity so just the experience factor is phenomenal," Huffman said. "It has really been paying off. I can only imagine he'll just keep rising this year. He's been playing college football for four years so he knows what it's like-the speed of the game and all that. It's going to be his second season with the same head coach, offensive coordinator. He knows the offense inside-and-out. He's the quarterback; he's the commander, the leader."

However, Lewis noted that the biggest improvement to his game and his ability to lead came once he was able to follow someone else's guidance for a change.

Ever since the arrival of head coach David Cutcliffe last year, Lewis has been forced to take a step back. Instead of being his own teacher, a commander 24/7, Lewis has learned to be study the game of football and pay attention to the deatils, and has a coach who has given him direction and raised the bar.

"Coach Cutcliffe has come in and instilled the idea that we will win and that's what we will do week-in and week-out," Lewis said. "He changed the attitude of the program, the outlook of the program.... He made me a student of the game-making me watch film and also teaching me to watch film, making me understand the offense so I can be a coach out on the field."

The Blue Devils' success may depend most on how Lewis performs in his fourth and final season. The expectations for the team and its quarterback this year are undeniably higher than they have been in years past. But placing that kind of pressure on Lewis is something both he and his teammates are perfectly comfortable with.

"He's the one making the calls out there," Huffman said. "He's who we look to get us going down the field, to score points. He's put a lot on his shoulders and I think Thad handles it well."


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