Eugene Lewis remembers the conversation with his father from five years ago like it was yesterday.
Poised to land on the practice roster of the Montreal Alouettes – where pay is, well, modest – the receiver from just outside Philadelphia contemplated whether it was time to do something other than play football in 2017.
“There was a point in time where I told my dad (Eugene Sr.) where if it was practice squad, I’m not really sure I want to do that,” Lewis recalled in a telephone interview after practice this week.
“I had thought about coming home and getting a real job if I was going to be on the practice squad. But my dad told me if you want to keep your dream alive, want to keep playing football and keep getting paid for something you love, just keep knocking at it. That’s what I did and we’re here now.”
Right here, right now, Lewis is the leading receiver in the CFL – and has to be considered one of the top players in the league.
Not bad for a guy who showed up in Canada for the first time three days before the end of camp in 2017, simply trying to figure out if he had a future in the sport after a couple of NFL tryouts following a college career at the football factories of Penn State and Oklahoma.
And not bad advice from Eugene Sr., who is now a pastor after going through some very tough times, along with his family, after being released by the NBA’s Utah Jazz in 1989 – as reported in this piece by longtime Montreal Gazette football reporter Herb Zurkowsky.
“When I got here, the odds were really against me,” said the younger Lewis, who learned about the CFL during his Penn State days by virtue of having a Toronto-born roommate — running back Akeel Lynch.
“Coming to a camp with three days left, they’re not in pads anymore. They’ve got one pre-season game left, basically doing walk-throughs and stuff like that.”
After notching two catches for 40 yards in that inaugural pre-season game and then playing two regular-season games in 2017, Lewis became a full-timer in 2018, recorded a 1,000-yard season in 2019 and finished third in receiving yards in last year’s shortened campaign.
Lewis, 29, leads the league with 305 receiving yards in three games this season – 65 yards ahead of second-place Kenny Lawler of the Edmonton Elks. Lewis is averaging a whopping 20.5 yards on his 15 catches for the Alouettes (1-2).
“My goal is to be the best receiver in the CFL. I believe I am,” Lewis said. “I just have to keep going out there and showing it. I want to lead the league in yards, I want to lead it in touchdown receptions, everything. I want to separate myself from other receivers and show the things I’m capable of doing and show people why I feel I’m the best receiver.”
The Alouettes already are on their second starting quarterback of the year in Trevor Harris, who has replaced Vernon Adams Jr. The team really has been looking for The Next One at quarterback since the great Anthony Calvillo (now the Als' quarterbacks coach) threw his last pass in 2013.
“You’ve got to roll with the punches, man. Listen, in 2018, I had seven ... quarterbacks and I led the team in receiving,” said the six-foot-one Lewis, recalling the year when the one and only Johnny Manziel got his shot with eight starts in Montreal – and the team finished 5-13.
“For me, I just go out there and try to make plays for my team.”
Lewis is doing just that, hauling in five passes for 68 yards in Montreal’s 37-13 win over Saskatchewan last week in the Alouettes’ home opener. The Roughriders host the Alouettes to wrap up the home-and-home series on Saturday.
If Lewis can maintain his pace, he might have a shot to be the third receiver since 2010 to win the league’s most outstanding player award – Brandon Banks did it in 2019 as a Hamilton Tiger-Cat and Chad Owens won in 2012 with the Toronto Argonauts.
“I remember that year (Banks) won it and it was huge,” Lewis said. “A lot of times it’s usually a quarterback who gets it. (Banks) winning gives you motivation, knowing that it’s possible … My thing is just keep grinding, keep winning and keep being consistent on the field.”
What we liked in Week 3
Another huge performance from Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke, notching a passing yardage record for a Canadian QB. A few more big games and we can start talking about him as a top most outstanding player candidate.
Speaking of quarterbacks playing well, Stampeders veteran Bo Levi Mitchell. A game-time decision because of a foot injury, Mitchell threw for 321 yards in a win over Edmonton.
The Alouettes winning their home opener over the Roughriders after two narrow losses on the road. The Als need some momentum to try to get more fans in the stands at this writer’s favourite place to watch a CFL game (nothing like looking out at the Montreal skyline from the stands on a summer night on the slopes of Mount Royal at Molson Stadium).
Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson’s pick six versus the Tiger-Cats. Nice to see one of the top players in the league hit the highlight reel for a score.
What we didn't like in Week 3
Seeing two star receivers — B.C.'s Bryan Burnham (ribs) and Saskatchewan's Shaq Evans (ankle) — suffer injuries that will keep them out for weeks or months.
The Tiger-Cats’ offence. They keep settling for field goals and committing turnovers.
The Argos’ awful showing in British Columbia. A 44-3 loss isn’t what a team desperate for attention in the country’s biggest market needs.
The one-sided nature of the week. The average margin of victory was 21.5 points.
The fact that Toronto, outscored 83-23 this season, leads the East at 1-1 after three weeks.
Things to watch in Week 4
Great quarterback matchup to kick things off on Thursday with Rourke going against Ottawa’s Jeremiah Masoli, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his first two games as a Redblack.
The debut of the Ticats’ sharp third jerseys – with ‘The Hammer’ written on the front – when Hamilton hosts Edmonton in the league’s first Canada Day game since 2019.
Argos running back Andrew Harris goes against his old Bombers teammates for the first and only time this season on, yes, Monday – which is an unfortunate date for a Toronto home game (Toronto FC plays at BMO Field on Saturday night). After a productive opener, the Winnipeg-born Harris was held to 27 rushing yards last week.
Alouettes sparkplug Chandler Worthy, who returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown against Saskatchewan last week. With the same two teams meeting Saturday, the Roughriders figure to have new plans to contain Worthy.
Week 4 Picks
B.C. Lions (-2.5) at Ottawa Redblacks, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
The Lions have to travel across the country on a short week – they crushed Toronto last Saturday – and suffered some key injuries in that game. Ottawa is coming off a bye week and is better than its 0-2 record. As of Wednesday, spread had gone down two points from the opening line. PICK: Ottawa
Edmonton Elks at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (-6.5), Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
Two winless teams square off in the basement bowl – not exactly a dream scenario for the CFL’s first Canada Day game since 2019. If the two-time reigning East champs can’t beat Edmonton at home, it would be disastrous. PICK: Hamilton
Montreal Alouettes at Saskatchewan Roughriders (-3.5), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
The Als crushed the Roughriders 37-13 in Montreal last week. But the Riders were coming off a short week before that trip. PICK: Saskatchewan
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-4.5) at Toronto Argonauts, Monday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
The Argos got humiliated last week in B.C., while the unbeaten Bombers had their best performance of the season in a win over the Ticats. If the Argos have any pride, they’ll respond and make this a close one. PICK: Toronto
Odds from FanDuel as of Wednesday.
2022 record against the spread: 6-6
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-0, Last week: 1): Two-time defending champs played best game of the season in win over Tiger-Cats – a rematch of the past two Grey Cups.
2. B.C. Lions (2-0, Last week: 5): Two home games, two blowout victories for Rourke and Co. Now, the schedule gets tougher.
3. Calgary Stampeders (3-0, Last week: 2): The Stamps are unbeaten despite trailing at halftime in all three contests.
4. Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-1, Last week: 2): Evans is out for the foreseeable future after breaking his ankle last week, taking away Cody Fajardo's top target. The quarterback threw his first two interceptions of the season in Montreal.
5. Ottawa Redblacks (0-2, Last week: 6): Let’s see what the Redblacks can do coming off the bye after two encouraging performances in losses against powerful Winnipeg to open the season.
6. Montreal Alouettes (1-2, Last week: 7): Harris seems to have taken over the No. 1 quarterback job. Defence and special teams excelled in win over Saskatchewan.
7. Toronto Argonauts (1-1, Last week: 4): Not competitive in loss to B.C. and lucky to win opener over Montreal. Offence has struggled dating back to last season. Heat is on second-year coach Ryan Dinwiddie and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to turn things around before two home games during the return of the Canadian National Exhibition in August.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-3, Last week: 8): Most disappointing team through three weeks. Dane Evans leads the league in passing yards, but team has committed a CFL-high 11 turnovers.
Edmonton Elks (0-3, Last week: 9): Have had chances to win last two weeks after getting blasted in B.C. in opener.