Dion Lewis: Leading the Rush to a PITT PANTHER Legacy

joel kirsteinCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2009

PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 16:  Dion Lewis #28 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers runs against the the Rutgers University Scarlett Knights on October 16, 2009 at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

True freshman running back Dion Lewis carried the ball 23 times for two touchdowns, 116 yards and the PITT Panthers to a 7-1 record (4-0, Big East) by beating the University of South Florida, 41-14. It was Lewis' fifth 100 yard rushing game and pushed him over the 1,000 yard total with four games to go. PITT is off to their best start since 1982.

Lewis became the fourth PITT Panther running back to rush for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, joining Tony Dorsett (1973), "Swervin'" Curvin Richards (1988), and LeSean McCoy (2007). University of Pittsburgh has produced several other legendary running backs such as Marshall Goldberg, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and Curtis Martin.

Lewis has drawn the most comparison so far to the legendary Tony Dorsett. In his first eight college football games, Lewis has rushed for 1,029 yards on 185 carries, eleven touchdowns and averaging 5.56 yards per carry and 128.63 yards per game. He now sits as the second leading rusher in the NCAA. If Lewis can continue at this clip, he will finish his freshman season with 1,543 rushing yards and is in reach of Dorsett's freshman rushing record of 1,686 yards, set in 1973.

Tony Dorsett was named a first-team All-American selection in 1973 as a freshman. He went on to be a three-time first-team College All-American and won the Heisman Trophy leading PITT to an undefeated 11-0 season and a national championship in 1976. Dorsett finished his college career with a NCCA record 6,028 yards that stood for over two decades. He was a number one draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys and voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

Lewis and Dorsett have a very similar physical stature. Dorsett at 5'-10" and 188 lbs. and Lewis at 5'-8" and 195 lbs. But that is where their paths to the PITT Panther backfield diverges. Dorsett was a highly touted and highly recruited high school star that chose to stay close to his suburban Pittsburgh home and attend PITT. He spurned offers from over 100 colleges, many with winning football teams. Dorsett immediately turned around the previously terrible PITT Panther football team into a national powerhouse in his four seasons.

Dion Lewis, a New Jersey native received little-to-no attention from colleges he solicited
after racking up 979 yards and 14 TDs on only 79 carries as a junior at prep school.
He was typically dismissed as being "too short." But a PITT assistant coach like what he saw in Lewis and like his predecessor Dorsett, from the first day at spring practice Dion Lewis impressed Panthers' coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff.

Lewis and the Panthers have ascended to number 16 in the AP Top 25 poll. After a
bye week before they face Syracuse, then finish their season at home against three nationally-ranked opponents, Notre Dame, West Virginia, and finally Cincinnati on December 5th for a potential Big East Championship and a trip to a BSC bowl game.

The fortunes of the PITT Panthers season will be carried by Dion Lewis and the near-future is looking very good in the hands of a freshman phenom!