October 22, 2016 was a big day for Kahlil Lewis. It was a day that changed how we saw him as a player. It was a day that altered the trajectory of his career. It was a day when he caught 11 passes for 150 yards and three damn touchdowns in a win over East Carolina. It was a majestic effort at the wide receiver position and one that stood out as the high point of Lewis’ season. Heck, it was probably the high point of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ season as a whole.
On that Saturday, Lewis showed the star power that is swimming just beneath the surface. All he needs is a quarterback to work with and an offensive coordinator ready to let it fly. Is Mike Denbrock that guy? Time will tell, but there’s a good chance that he will be. After all, he coached 2015 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Will Fuller at Notre Dame. Plus, Luke Fickell has made it clear that the Bearcats will be going fast and that’s just Lewis’ speed.
Before the 2016 campaign, Lewis was a rarely used freshman who played in five games and caught three passes for 53 yards in his first year on campus. His role on the team was bound to escalate during his sophomore campaign. Many of the players that Lewis had worked with and learned from were gone. No more Shaq Washington or Max Morrison to illustrate how to have good hands. No more Chris Moore to show how to make big plays.
With the help of Devin Gray and Nate Cole, Lewis helped make the transition from the old group somewhat easier, as all three had a few big games during the season. But none was as impressive as Lewis’ festival of receiving glory against East Carolina. The production Lewis accounted for in that game made up a large chunk of what was a pretty solid season for the then sophomore. Lewis finished the year tied for first on the team in touchdown receptions (five), second in receiving yards (605) and third in receptions (48). He was the third option on the team in terms of frequency of targets, but obviously had all the skill to take over a game and be the primary option.
His work against East Carolina was the exclamation point on his best stretch of the season. From Sept. 24 to Oct. 22, during a four-game stretch, Lewis amassed 28 catches for 372 yards and four touchdowns. He had at least 70 receiving yards in three of those four contests. In the other eight games, he had only two such outings.
His job as a receiver was expanded upon as he was also a special teams contributor, returning six kicks on the season and serving as the second option behind Mike Boone.
In 2017, Lewis may not be utilized on special teams as much, as the Bearcats would be smart to protect one of their best skill players. Where he will be utilized is in the passing game, with more passes going his way than ever before as he and Gray share the role of go-to target. With improved chances and a corresponding adjustment in consistency, Lewis is on course to not just have one big day, but one big year.