Vanderbilt senior defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo is honoring Tucson High School great Osia Lewis, who passed away on May 31, by putting the words “#LewisStrong” on the back of his helmet.
“Absolutely,” he told VUCommodores.com this week. “I had to do it.”
Vanderbilt also painted on a wall at its stadium where the Commodores enter the field a sign that reads, “Coach Osia Lewis, 1962-2020, #LewisStrong.” They will walk by that before a game for the first time with their home opener Saturday against defending national champion LSU.
Lewis, who went on to star at Oregon State in the 1980s after his career with the Badgers, was a Vanderbilt defensive analyst and outside linebackers coach at the time of his passing. He was 57.
“Really just one of the toughest people I ever met,” Odeyingbo said. “Having him as a coach and the mentor that he was to me here definitely has had a big impact on what my work ethic is – and it really made me grow up.”
The VUCommodores.com article states that Odeyingbo was a self-described immature 17-year-old freshman in 2017 when he arrived in Nashville to play for the Commodores. It was then that he encountered Lewis whom Odeyingbo thought, at the time, was, “just a hard-ass coach.”
“He always preached to me, one, about the details, the details of everything you’re doing regardless of what it is in life because those are the things that make you be great instead of good,” Odeyingbo said. “The finite details that most people don’t focus on are what separates the average from the above average.
“He constantly preached being a pro and showing up every day like a pro. If that’s where I want to go I need to show up every day every day to work like it’s my job. I need to show up with a great attitude and do everything I can to get better.”
Lewis’ coaching career lasted more than 30 years including stops at Oregon State, Illinois and San Diego State. He was an honorable mention All-America selection, All-Pac 10 pick and team captain at linebacker with the Beavers.
He battled liver cancer for four years up to his passing. He died in his sleep with cancer in remission.
“The pain is that he’s not here anymore,” Steve Lewis , an assistant coach at Mesa High School, told AllSportsTucson.com after his brother’s passing. “Knowing that he lived a full life as a coach, as a father, as a sibling and mentor to a lot of African American coaches around the country, you know like (San Diego State receivers coach) Hunkie Cooper told me earlier on the phone, they’ll tell you they owe everything to him being a coach.”
Although Osia had to go through a series of chemotherapy sessions that helped put his cancer into remission, he tried to maintain an image of strength for the Commodores.
“Never complained and never showed any sign of weakness,” Odeyingbo said. “His dedication to this team and this game is really unmatched. It didn’t matter when we were having the roughest times in our season, he was going to be honest and be hard on us. Even if some people had given up on us, he was never going to give up on us.
“He could have been at home relaxing or spending time with his family, but he was up here every day – he was going to make sure he was here whenever he could be.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.