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Kahlil Lewis: An Appreciation

Nobody caught passes quite like Lewis for the last three seasons.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Career Numbers

  • 168 receptions
  • 2,116 yards
  • 12.6 yards per reception
  • 21 receiving touchdowns

For the last three seasons, when the Cincinnati Bearcats needed to complete a pass, they were usually going to try to get the ball to Kahlil Lewis. Plays might have been called for other pass-catchers, but Lewis was always at the top of the depth chart and the best choice for any aerial endeavor. He averaged 55 receptions for 687.7 yards and seven touchdowns from 2016 to 2018, never dipping below 600 yards in any season. That is an exceptional run of sustained success.

Prior to 2016, however, Lewis was just a freshman wide receiver with a ton of potential who was trying to create a role for himself with the Bearcats. He didn’t get many chances to catch passes in 2015, as he caught only three for 53 yards while buried on the depth chart behind Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Max Morrison, Mekale McKay, Alex Chisum and Johnny Holton. However, Lewis’ ability to make plays in the open field earned him a spot as an occasional kick returner. He averaged 19.9 yards per return on 10 tries.

When the 2016 season rolled around, the Bearcats were in need of some new wideouts to take over and Lewis, along with teammate Devin Gray, fit the bill. While Gray led the team in receptions and receiving yards, Lewis wasn’t too shabby himself, as he caught 48 balls for 605 yards while tying for a team-best five touchdown catches. He still dabbled in the kick return game along the way, but his role in that regard was more diminished.

Entering 2017, the sky seemed like the limit for Lewis and Gray. Even after the Bearcats went just 4-8 in 2016, they had two receiving threats that could make plays. If the offense could improve around them, then odds were good that at least one of them would have a great year. At least one of them did, in fact, and Lewis was that guy. Despite being really the only consistently effective receiver on the roster, meaning teams could key in on him, Lewis still produced 676 yards and seven touchdowns on 61 receptions. He had more than twice as many catches as the next-best player on the roster and closed the year on a hot streak, recording at least 60 yards in four of the final games of the year.

Once again, a great year and a strong finish built up the hype around Lewis as he entered his senior year this fall. Unfortunately, a slow start made it seem like he was destined to disappoint those expectations. Through the first seven games of the season, even while the Bearcats were off to a 6-1 start, Lewis only accumulated 240 yards on 19 receptions, while being held to less than 10 yards twice.

Then Lewis decided it was time to quit messing around when the Bearcats played SMU, as he erupted for a then career-high 174 yards on a personal best 12 receptions. Two of those catches went for touchdowns and Lewis was off to the races. He wound up setting the best marks of his career in receiving yards (782) and receiving touchdowns (nine), powered mainly by his efforts against SMU and East Carolina (203 yards, three touchdowns).

Lewis also did something else for the first time in his career as a senior. While the Bearcats made a bowl game when he was a freshman, they fell short in that contest. This year, Lewis got to taste a bowl victory, with the Bearcats defeating Virginia Tech 35-31 in the Military Bowl. Lewis even scored a touchdown in that contest, although it was on a fumble recovery, putting a excellent final stamp on his career.

East Carolina v Cincinnati Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Best of the Best

Oct. 22, 2016 vs. East Carolina

This was Lewis’ breakout game. As a sophomore, he had been playing well, but nothing prepared us for what he did against the Pirates. In a tour de force, Lewis hauled in 11 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns, including the dagger in the fourth quarter of a 31-19 win.

Sept. 16, 2017 at Miami-Ohio

Playing big in rivalry games will always earn a player some good will. The 2017 season was not a great one for the Bearcats, but they still won the Battle for the Victory Bell. Lewis played a large role in that win, turning seven receptions into 83 yards and a touchdown. His 20-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter pulled the Bearcats to within three points, which was critical since they scored on a pick-six less than two minutes later and won the game.

Oct. 21, 2017 vs. SMU

This wasn’t the biggest yardage game of SMU’s career, but he pulled in 10 passes for 72 yards. Unfortunately, the Bearcats lost this one during a pretty terrible season.

Nov. 25, 2017 vs. UConn

Once again, Lewis came through in the clutch, catching a touchdown pass in the fourt quarter to even things at 15-15. The Bearcats went on to win thanks to a mixed extra point, but 64 yards, six receptions and two touchdowns from Lewis played a big part as well.

Oct. 27, 2018 at SMU

This was a turning point in Lewis’ senior season and it happened against a team he had a history of dominating. Lewis caught 12 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, a performance he wouldn’t top until...

Nov. 23, 2018 vs. East Carolina

... a few weeks later against the Pirates when he had 203 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches in his final game at Nippert Stadium.

A Final Goodbye

Lewis is easily the best wide receiver of the last three seasons for the Bearcats. He may not have won awards, but his ability to take over and dominate games was unparalleled on UC’s roster. Watching him pile up yardage and receptions was one of the only reasons to keep watching the Bearcats, especially in the lean years of 2016 and 2017. He took up the mantle left by Washington following the 2015 season and ended up finishing as the eighth-most productive receiver in program history. Now its his turn to hand that mantle off. The Bearcats can only hope to be lucky enough to get another receiver like Lewis.