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Old 04-06-2006, 12:04 PM   #1
Midnightwriter1
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Default Steelers interest in Jai Lewis......

The man in the middle of one of the greatest NCAA Tournament runs in history might one day sport the black and gold of the Steelers.

"Basically, I have a great opportunity to make somebody's roster in the NFL," said Jai Lewis, the hulking, 6-foot-7, 275-pound center for the George Mason basketball team, which recently completed an improbable run to the Final Four. "People are saying my better option is to go play football."





The Steelers already have gotten a first-hand look at the athletic Lewis, scouting a regular-season George Mason game this past season.

"I didn't know they were there until after the game," said Lewis, who's visited Pittsburgh twice - once on a recruiting visit to Robert Morris and once in a loss to Pitt four years ago at the Petersen Events Center. "Coach (Jim Larranaga) called me into the office and said, 'The Steelers watched you and were impressed.'"

Although he did not play football in college, Lewis said NFL teams see him as a tight end or a defensive end/outside linebacker. Of course, if he wound up on the defensive side of the ball in Pittsburgh, Lewis would have to relinquish his college number of 55, which is worn by Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter.

"Hey, if I play tight end, I won't need 55," said Lewis, who likely would sign with a team as a free agent. "I know Joey Porter is a great linebacker. I'd just be happy getting a shot at playing football."

Not that Lewis has given up on basketball yet. He watched the NCAA final between Florida and UCLA on Monday night at an apartment in Fairfax, Va., then shipped off to Portsmouth, Va., to participate in the Portsmouth Invitational, a four-day showcase for NBA hopefuls.

If he makes a strong impression there - and chances are he could, given he was a three-time All-Colonial Athletic Association pick - Lewis would be invited to the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago.

"I'm definitely not closing the doors on basketball," he said.

But he realizes that the doors on football could swing wide open soon.

Lewis was a star defensive end/tight end at Aberdeen (Md.) High School, and was recruited by Virginia Tech and East Carolina before low SAT scores forced him into prep school, where he ultimately turned his attention to basketball.

But even with all of his success on the college hardwood, Lewis sat down with Larranaga last year, and they sent letters to every NFL team as an insurance policy.

"The guy moves around well, I know that," said Gil Brandt, the former general manager with the Dallas Cowboys and current writer for NFL.com. "This has become a big thing nowadays, these basketball players taking shots at the NFL. Marty Blake, the scouting director of the NBA, said he gets calls all the time from teams. I think he said Pittsburgh is one of the teams that likes to find out who's out there."

San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who exclusively played basketball at Kent State, set the standard three years ago when he successfully made the jump from college hoops to the NFL. Others, such as Long Beach State forward Onye Ibekwe, who's worked out for seven NFL teams, and Lewis are looking to follow Gates' lead.

"The thing that he's done is that we know it is definitely possible to make the transition," said Lewis, who has not worked out for an NFL team and has yet to secure an agent. "If I get the opportunity to try out for football, I'll give 100 percent, because I don't want to be the one to close that door."

After helping his team to amazing wins over Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut en route to the NCAA Final Four, Lewis proved anything is possible.

"Everybody puts their pants on the same way as me; they're no different than me," Lewis said. "And I know if I get the opportunity to play in the NFL, I know those players have an upper hand on me because they played college football and they're used to contact, but I believe in my heart that I can earn a spot on someone's roster."
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