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VOL. 41 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 17, 2017

Lewan pines for his days as a desert dirt-biker

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“It was awful,” Titans Pro Bowler Taylor Lewan says of his early high school football efforts. “You could ask my buddies from Cactus Shadows High School. I was terrible.”

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Motocross’ loss is apparently the NFL and the Tennessee Titans’ gain. As unlikely as it sounds, Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan’s football career almost didn’t take off, because of his love for another endeavor – dirt bike riding.

A native of Arizona, the 6-7, 310-pound Lewan played football almost as an afterthought initially. Instead of growing up dreaming to be like Jonathan Ogden or Tony Boselli as a star left tackle in the NFL, he instead idolized motocross, X Games and later NASCAR racer Travis Pastrana.

“I was a desert rat, running around on a dirt bike,” Lewan recalls. “I was like a weird kid, a little punk running around. I just kind of fell into football and fell in love with it.

“Travis Pastrana. He was on the ‘Nitro Circus.’ That was my first love, freestyle motocross.

“I had a group of friends and, living out in the desert, we had desert parties all the time, and there was a place we called the waterhole and they’d have dirt kickers out there, metal kickers, cement kickers and anywhere from 15 feet to 125 feet, and I ended up being the guy to go first quite a bit.”

As he entered high school, Lewan had dreams of riding motocross and enjoying the thrills of that sport – maybe seriously, but certainly for fun and entertainment.

“I was always a taller kid. But riding dirt bikes, Travis Pastrana was 6-2, and I was about 6-1 (at the time). I can ride dirt bikes, too,” Lewan says.

“I’d wake up in the morning at like 6 a.m., and I’d go ride until I had to go to school. Then I got to (football) practice, and I’d have my forearms all skinned up from falling down (on the bikes).”

Lewan played football, in part, because of his size, and perhaps with some encouragement from his father, Dave, who was a walk-on at the University of Minnesota for two years until illness derailed his career.

Football became a little more fun when Lewan’s Cactus Shadows High School team enjoyed success.

“When I was playing high school and stuff like that, I didn’t want to play football at first,” he says. “But then we were 8-0 on my freshman team, and then my sophomore year, we went 15-0 and won the state, and then I knew that’s what I wanted. I wanted to play football.”

Still, Lewan wasn’t all in on football until after he transferred to Chaparral High School in Scottsdale after his junior year. It was there that he switched from playing defensive line to offensive line.

“Football was like a secondary thought to me really until after my junior year. I transferred schools down to Scottsdale, and they were like, ‘You’re not a nose tackle.’ Obviously,” Lewan recalls. “You’re 6-7. You’re an offensive lineman, and you can play left tackle. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’

“So I went to where some kid was the No. 6 defensive end in the country and he had twenty-something offers, and ran a couple a 40s and got some offers off that. The rest is kind of history.”

Lewan says his high school highlights as a defensive lineman are kind of comical looking back.

“Honestly, if you go on YouTube and type in ‘Taylor Lewan high school highlights,’ it’s the biggest wash you’ll ever see in your life. It’s just trash,” he says. “It’s this tall white dude looking around and chasing the ball. It was awful. You could ask my buddies from Cactus Shadows High School. I was terrible.

“I transferred, and something just clicked. I grew in my own body a little bit and figured out that offensive line is my gig. I got a couple of offers just based off my athletic ability and junior day combines and stuff. As soon as I got a scholarship (offer) – I remember in spring ball I got a scholarship from Utah State – I was like, ‘I’m going to the NFL.’ That was it. It was done.”

And on playing professional football as a career, Lewan said he would not take no for answer.

“I went to Michigan, and they were like, ‘What do you want to do with your life after football?’ I was like, ‘Keep me eligible. I want to go to the NFL.’ And they said, ‘You know, statistically …’ And I like shut it down, ‘I’m going to the NFL.’

“And that was just how it kind of worked out,” he said.

And what about motorcycle riding? Well, he reluctantly gave it up. But once football ends, he’ll be right back on a bike.

“After my junior year, but it was not my choice. My dad was like, ‘You need to focus on football.’ And to this day, as soon as I’m done with football, I’m gonna get a bike.’ A Harley and all that.

“I can’t wait – not to quit (football), but I’m super set to own a motorcycle someday,” he said.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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