It was a homecoming on Sunday for Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
The self-proclaimed “desert rat” is originally from Scottsdale and spent his first three high school seasons as a defensive tackle at Cactus Shadows High School.
For his senior year, the 6-foot-7, 272-pound lineman transferred to Chaparral, where he saw his overall game and recruitment pick up. Chaparral head coach Charlie Ragle converted Lewan to an offensive tackle, where he would be going against defensive end Craig Roh, who was one of the most recruited players in the country, every day in practice.
College coaches would come to visit Roh and had a firsthand look at the newly converted offensive lineman.
“Craig was dialed-in, an uber-smart kid, very organized, very disciplined,” Ragle, who is now that special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Cal, said. “I think Taylor saw Craig and how Craig approached his practices, his life just in general. I know Taylor was smart enough to recognize that and say, ‘These are some of the things that I’ve got to do in order to ensure that I end up where I need to.'”
Roh, who now plays in the Canadian Football League for the British Columbia Lions, said he won most of their match-ups early on, but as Lewan got his feet under him, it was a battle of two of the best players in the state going head-to-head.
“When you have those sorts of people (college coaches) coming to practice every day and you’re saying, “Oh, this guy Taylor is beating Craig who we’re recruiting, maybe we should recruit him as well.’ It was really cool to…see another guy benefit from all those scouts coming to practice.”
“I owe me being here to Charlie Ragle,” Lewan said in the Tennessee Titans locker room on Sunday.
“I owe Craig a lot more than I’ve probably given. He’s the reason why I got so much exposure so fast…He definitely helped a lot. A guy that plays at that high of a level and is such a technician, especially in high school, I had to sharpen some skills really fast.”
The offers came rushing in for Lewan, and both he and Roh committed to Michigan. On top of being teammates, the two were roommates. Imagine two Hulks in a 100 square foot box with the smells of, well teenagers thrown in with the morning’s practice and the sounds of lots and lots of Nintendo 64. Roh said he came home one day to Lewan dismantling Roh’s bed to create a bunk-bed (cue the “More room for activities” line from Step Brothers) so the two could convert a second room to a Super Smash Brothers thunder-dome.
Here’s a little more from Roh on their living situation:
Roh started as a true freshman and continued for his four years in Ann Arbor, holding the university’s longest start streak. Lewan redshirted his freshman year and later was named an All-American and was selected 11th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Titans. He’s protected one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Marcus Mariota and was a 2016 Pro Bowl selection.
This doesn’t surprise Charlie Ragle.
He said himself it’s “broad” for a high school coach to say a player is NFL-bound, but he said it once, and it was about Taylor Lewan.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that when I watched him line up in practice for the first time and I watched him run a (40-yard dash) for the first time, this kid with his personality, traits, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind he was one of the most talented individuals that I would ever coach in my career,” Ragle said.
“I knew if he stayed healthy, he was going to play on Sundays.”
Ragle recalled a time where Lewan returned to Chaparral after his freshman season at Michigan. He was flying back to Ann Arbor that day, but he had heard a lineman on the Chaparral team was deemed faster than Lewan. He showed up to campus during the team’s weight training session in shorts and flip-flops and challenged the lineman to a 40-yard dash. He kicked off his shoes, raced the lineman, beat him and promptly walked off the field and yelled, “All right boys, I’m back to Michigan!”
The same could be said for Roh, who said he hasn’t gone against a tougher blocker than his former Firebird and Wolverine teammate.
“I’ve said to this very day that Taylor is the best offensive tackle I’ve ever gone against, still is,” Roh said. “You look at how athletic he is. You look at how strong he is. The guy has a real kickass mentality too. This is a guy who’s highlight film, half the guys he was taking off the screen, you couldn’t even see them. He’s just throwing them into the stands. That’s an offensive lineman mentality.”
Roh said “kickass mentality”. Ragle called it “nasty”. Lewan said he wanted to be the meanest person on the field.
No matter the variations, Lewan, now 6-foot-7, 309 pounds, looks the part with a full tattoo sleeve on his right arm down to his fingers and an imposing frame. But the mean-streak starts and ends when the game clock is running. As he made his way out to the field on Sunday, he gave a tip of the cap, well…helmet, to Chandler Jones, the Cardinals defensive end that Lewan would be facing off against.
The same goes off the field.
When he was drafted and selected to the Pro Bowl, he wanted to fly his high school coach out to each event, but Ragle was unable to because he was recruiting schedule for the University of Arizona at the time.
“He’s the same guy,” Ragle said. “He’s always wanted to come back and give Chaparral and the people that helped him credit because he’ll tell you, he’s so forthright in saying like, ‘Listen if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’ For a guy like that (to do that), it’s just awesome.”
Though he makes his home in Tennessee, it’s clear Lewan is an Arizonan.
“This is a good football state, for sure,” Lewan said. “I’m very proud to be from Arizona. I’m very proud to call myself a desert rat.”
Lewan had to leave Sunday’s game but doesn’t foresee it being an issue moving forward. The Titans are 8-5 and second in the AFC South.