Incoming freshman CB Clarence Lewis keeps working before joining Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Before his flight to South Bend, Clarence Lewis scheduled one more training session.

The incoming freshman cornerback set up a workout with his trainer for Thursday morning before his flight from New Jersey was set to leave Thursday afternoon.

One week after Notre Dame’s football program revealed its plan to bring players back to campus ahead of voluntary workouts later this month, Lewis should be on his way. After months of uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic, some clarity was finally reached for the Irish players.

“It caught me by surprise,” Lewis said. “They said we could be going there soon, but then again we were supposed to go this time anyways if the coronavirus wasn’t here. I feel like I’m ready. I thought I had a little more time to work out and stuff, but it’s fine.”

The summer school session that will begin the Notre Dame careers for Lewis and eight other incoming freshman football players was always scheduled to start on June 15. But those classes will all be held online. The football team will be housed at the Morris Inn on campus as it resumes preparing for the 2020 season for the first time since spring practice was postponed and then canceled in March.

Lewis kept himself prepared at home with the help of Middletown (N.J.) Mater Dei linebackers coach Ryan Daly, who also works as a performance coach. Together they continued his development over the last few months.

“He goes above and beyond,” Daly said. “He’s always reaching out to me to get extra work. We’ve been doing the best we can to get him out on the field and stay moving through speed, agility, quickness work.

“Also we’ve been doing our best to stay outside and working on power and strength. We’ve been doing the best we can in creating social distancing ways to keep him moving, keep his strength up, keep his endurance up and keep his quickness up.”

The last few months for Lewis have been focused on self-improvement. He hasn’t been on Zoom meetings learning Notre Dame’s defense or the technique that new cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens teaches. He’s been working toward transitioning to being a full-time cornerback for the first time.

At Mater Dei, Lewis played a lot of wide receiver. Last season he caught 39 passes for 639 yards and five touchdowns. On defense, he moved from cornerback his junior season to playing safety as a senior. But Daly has no doubt in Lewis’ ability to play cornerback at Notre Dame.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching him be versatile in the secondary and make some big plays for us throughout the years at wide receiver,” Daly said. “When the team needed him to move to safety from corner, he did what was best for the team and moved to safety.

“By far, he’s the best lockdown corner I’ve had the chance to watch. If there’s anybody you want to play man coverage on somebody, it’s going to be Clarence.”

Recruiting services projected Lewis with some skepticism as a three-star prospect. 247Sports slated him as the No. 54 cornerback in the 2020 class. Rivals ranked him No. 81 at the position.

That could be because of his lack of experience at cornerback. 247Sports slated Julian Love as the No. 51 cornerback in the 2016 class. Like Lewis, Love played a lot on offense in high school. He went on to set the Notre Dame record in career pass breakups in just three seasons before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Lewis will definitely miss playing wide receiver, he said. He’s excited to see how focusing solely on defense will improve his game. He thinks his experience on offense will help him make a push to play on defense as a freshman.

“I understand the receivers and how to cover them,” Lewis said. “I have a good enough IQ that I can play.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound’s athleticism helps too. Lewis doesn’t have blazing speed — he clocked a 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds last year — but he moves fluidly on the field. He flashed enough at a Virginia Tech satellite camp at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. to receive his first offer that same day in June 2018.

Notre Dame followed suit 11 months later. Following an official visit to Notre Dame last June, he committed to the Irish. A little more than a year later, he’ll officially join the program this week.

The Irish need to develop reliable backups at cornerback behind sixth-year Shaun Crawford, grad transfer Nick McCloud and junior TaRiq Bracy. The other six scholarship cornerbacks, including Lewis, are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

Thanks to Lewis’ commitment to training in the last few months, he won’t be a step behind physically.

“You can see how much more detailed he is on every movement that he does,” Daly said. “You can see his first step. You can see quickness, his explosion, his power in everything he does. That really stands out against kids who decided to take a month off and not find creative ways to get moving.”

Incoming freshman Clarence Lewis, left, played a lot of wide receiver during his career at Middletown (N.J.) Mater Dei, but Notre Dame recruited Lewis as a cornerback.