Kadeem Lewis comes full circle with Southern

For many college football players, senior night is filled with emotion. For Southern defensive end Kadeem Lewis, Saturday’s home finale in A.W. Mumford Stadium will be something he’s prepared for.

He’s had five years.

It’s not that Lewis won’t enjoy the moment, or that he won’t recollect on his time on The Bluff. But he’s ready to move on to the next phase of his life.

“It’s going to be tough,” Lewis said of Saturday night’s nonconference game against Clark Atlanta. “But I’m glad it’s here. I want to move on with life. I want to see what God has for me for the next life.”

Lewis is currently nursing an ankle injury he suffered last week but is hopeful he’ll take the field for senior night. At any rate, when Lewis — a criminal justice major who’s enrolled in graduate school — runs out of the tunnel for the final time Saturday, he will be greeted by Southern coach Dawson Odums.

“I look at him as a son,” Odums said. “I’m going to tell him to make the best of that night.”

Lewis has seen his share of change at Southern. His career started under Pete Richardson, who was fired after the 2009 season, and continued with Stump Mitchell and Odums as head coaches. Lewis and his defensive linemen have also played under four position coaches — Todd Middleton, O’Neill Gilbert, Odums and Myron Jackson (actually, if you count Jason Palermo, who coached the defensive line during 2012 spring practice, the number grows to five).

But Lewis shares a special connection with Odums. He has the opportunity to see the coach in a different light.

“Coach Odums and my girlfriend (Southern tennis player Lois Alexis) play tennis together every Tuesday and Thursday nights,” Lewis said. “They are doubles partners. They play against her other teammates and they win. (Odums) is a different man on the tennis courts. He’s around females, so he’s on his best behavior. But he still talks trash.”

Lewis, a graduate of Grace King High, grew up watching the Jaguars as a child.

“I’ve been attending the Bayou Classic since I was 5 or 6 years old,” he said. “It was always a dream for me, I always wanted to play in the Bayou Classic.

“I remember my freshman year, when I stepped into the Superdome, and I was shocked that I was playing in the Bayou Classic.”

The veteran has seen the Jaguars come full circle, going 6-5 during his redshirt season in 2009 to losing records from 2010-12. But now that Southern is 6-4 overall and has already clinched a berth in next month’s Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, Lewis has tempered his excitement.

“It’s been a bumpy road,” he said. “All the older guys, when I was young, kept me with them and made me feel welcomed. And I’m glad we’re going to the SWAC Championship, but that’s really for them — the younger guys. So whenever we go to the SWAC Championship, I’m going to ball for those guys.”

Yet the rest of the Jaguars appreciate what Lewis brings on and off the field. They made him a team captain before the start of the season.

“He’s a guy of great character,” senior quarterback Dray Joseph said. “He’s a well-rounded young man. Those are the type of guys that you want leading your program. He understand the struggles that Southern has been through as a program. And he’s always staying positive, no matter what the circumstances are.”

Odums added: “I don’t think you can find a better guy. I had a chance to coach him along the defensive line, he’s bought into this program. His parents are tremendous leaders. He’s an outstanding student. He has all the ingredients of a champion, and I think that is why his teammates voted him as team captain.”

And Lewis has a specific recollection of Odums when the coach first arrived to Southern that he will always remember.

It was during spring practice in 2011, when Odums challenged Lewis to be better. He took it to heart.

“In his first year here during spring ball, I have a fond memory of him,” Lewis said. “He told me that he liked me and that I could play ball, but (he) said I wouldn’t play for him unless I stepped it up a notch. I just remember that all the time.”