Next time you switch jobs, put it up to a vote first and just see what happens.
In case you haven’t heard, Utah State’s uber-talented freshman wideout Rayshad Lewis has opted to transfer schools. Though his destination has not yet been determined, the 5-foot-10-inch receiver with an NFL pedigree has decided his talents exceed what the Aggie football program has to offer — and whether he’s right or not is actually none of your business.
Let’s get the pandering out of the way first so we can jump to the dose of reality USU’s fanbase so desperately needs. There are several advantages to playing for a mid-major, particularly for Utah State. The workout and practice facilities in Logan are literally top-of-the-line. Maverik Stadium’s overhaul put the Aggies on the map as having one of the three best home field locations in the conference, and the only one in a gorgeous valley — sorry Laramie/Boise, you know I’m right.
The program itself has managed to successfully elevate expectations from “Gee I wonder if we will score a touchdown this game” to being at least in the hunt for the conference crown. While that particular honor has eluded the Aggies since induction into the Mountain West in 2013, the fact that it’s even a discussion shows just how far the team has come. Utah State is a good bet to be bowl-eligible most years, cultivates a relatively high-character program, and most importantly (yes, it really is most important) the Aggies graduate their players at an extremely high rate.
Now, Lewis had 40 receptions for 476 yards last year as a true freshman in an offense that struggled to find a rhythm nearly every game. After completing the 2nd-greatest season by a USU freshman wideout ever, the Aggies sat at the bottom of the conference with a glaring 3-9 record, losing six of their last seven.
Could Lewis stay three more years and leave behind a strong legacy? Could he put together enough highlights to get noticed, even drafted? Probably, yes. The Aggies have several former players on NFL rosters, including Colts running back Robert Turbin, Green Bay’s do-it-all linebacker Kyler Fackrell and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, the best middle linebacker in the league (unless you’re a Carolina fan). Lewis could make a name for himself in Logan.
But he doesn’t have to.
“He made a commitment,” cry fans ready to return to the days of 10-win seasons, Top 25 defenses and the slight but addictive taste of national exposure.
Yes, he committed his freshman year to Utah State. He turned passes three yards behind the line of scrimmage into positive gains more than anyone should ever have to. Every few games he screamed past slow-footed cornerbacks for an easy deep ball. Watching Rayshad Lewis play was awesome, even when watching the Aggies was decidedly not.
So if he feels up to the task of moving away to greener pastures, why exactly should we hold that against him? When else would it be even remotely appropriate to question this sort of decision? Players may not get paid — this very relationship between athletes and athletics programs is under serious scrutiny, and rightfully so — but for all intents and purposes, football is Lewis’ job. He’s the one going to 6am workouts, and he’s the one whose 165-pound frame is getting crushed in the middle of the field for a six-yard gain, and he’s the one who gets to decided whose colors he wears.
Rayshad Lewis has opted to switch jobs, and is well within his rights to do so.
Aggie fans need not take this as an affront. It’s easy to see why maybe Lewis thinks he can be a decent-sized fish in the PAC-12’s pond, and for Aggie fans to feel the ever-present mid-major “stepping stone program” scab ripped off in mid-April isn’t what anyone wanted when they woke up this morning. But not every situation is a David “literally Judas” Collette betrayal of classless narcissism. It could just be as simple as an uncomfortable culture fit, or as clear-cut as an offensive coordinator change he feels doesn’t complement his game. As much as devout Aggies may try to deny it, Lewis’ departure could also be the natural result of USU’s obvious negative trajectory since Gary Andersen’s best year. It could be for any number of private reasons — playing games under the bright lights in the fall is only a fraction of a player’s experience in Logan, and the only portion most fans will ever see.
Maybe we’ll find out his reasoning somewhere down the line, but even if we don’t, Lewis doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for how he leads his own career.
Lewis has given fans no reason to question his character or his commitment — particularly when contrasted with Aggie football’s actual paid employees, who for some reason are not held to the same standard as the 19-year-old college athletes from whom fans expect absolute and unwavering loyalty. How many coordinators has USU cycled through since joining the Mountain West? And you’re going to trash a kid for not sticking out his whole career in one spot? As fellow Statesman sports guy Daniel Hansen (@The GrandDanny) mentioned today on Twitter, most Aggie fans didn’t even make it through four quarters of a game last year, so maybe they ought to tone it down when calling into question someone’s commitment.
Players should be proud to be Aggies, but Lewis is young and capable and intrigued by other possibilities. This isn’t a Kevin Durant move. He didn’t sink years of his career into building up a loyal following before turning on his brothers and booking it to Candyland for a shot at a title. He’s a gifted athlete looking for something USU evidently can’t provide him.
For what it’s worth, the dude has no hard feelings for the coaches or his time here. As stated on Twitter, Lewis “always has love” for Logan. It’s just time for a change.