Kenny Lewis got caught in a numbers game which ultimately added up to him landing with the Jets.
A running back chosen by Oakland in the fifth round of the 1980 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech, Lewis had a strong preseason as a rookie. But when veteran offensive linemen Gene Upshaw and Art Shell got banged up, the Raiders needed help in the trenches more than in the backfield, and Lewis was released.
"Once I went on waivers, I went back to finish up my degree, and the Jets called the police station in (my hometown of) Danville (Virginia) and asked them to find me," Lewis laughed. "They reached out to my family, and my family ended up calling me at Tech and told me to call (Jets president and general manager) Jim Kensil."
Already five games into the season, Lewis was excited for the opportunity to get back into the game, and made his way to New York. Where…
"I had a really unique experience," Lewis said. "They bring you in on a Tuesday to take a physical. I shook Bob Reese's hand, he told me he was the trainer. And then I shook the hand of a guy by the name of Bruce Harper, and he told me he was a ball boy. Which I didn't know. I had no idea.
"I came in that Wednesday and put my uniform on to go out and practice, and guess who I saw catching punts? Bruce Harper. I said, 'Well, you got me, man.' He and I became the best of friends."
Offensive coordinator Joe Walton and running backs coach Bob Ledbetter told Lewis that his role with the Jets would primarily be on special teams, but that they planned to weave him into working with Harper on third down mid- and long-yardage situations.
However, persistent shoulder and knee injuries put Lewis in a situation where he was unable to contribute on the field. Placed on and off injured reserve, he not only had to heal, but also had to keep his confidence in check and stay positive.
"Out of the four years that I was there, three years I was on I.R. I played some and then ended up getting hurt," Lewis said. "NFL teams, they have their way of providing the treatment and the care that you need to get you ready. And the training staff with the Jets, Bob Reese and Pepper Burruss, great guys, I always had a good relationship with those guys.
"They reminded you that you can't make the club in the (ice) tub. But they still made it that you got your quality training and made sure that you got whatever you needed to get ready and back out on the field. So you kind of dealt with dealing with those guys and dealing with other guys on injured reserve.
"And also, the relationship I had with Bruce Harper really helped. He was a true veteran, never felt threatened for his position or anything. He was just a good friend that showed me the ropes and how to be a professional athlete. Even when I was injured, he still was that person who I got together with at times and showed that he cared more than just football."
Although Lewis wasn't able to play as much as he had hoped during his four seasons with the Jets, 1980-83, one of his fondest memories with the team occurred during an August preseason game in Atlanta.
Trailing in the fourth quarter, Lewis took the ball off left tackle and ran 80 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons held on to win, 21-20.
"A starting linebacker for Atlanta [Buddy Curry], he and I played high school football together, and he was cheering for me on the sideline," Lewis laughed. "We were kind of joking about it after the game, but it was just a memorable, fun time in my career.
"I've always had a goal in my life to play in the NFL. I thank God that I accomplished that goal. And even though, no question, I endured a lot of obstacles, especially the injuries, that goal was accomplished.
"Another thing, I was and still am a Christian athlete, and I got involved with the bible study that the Jets used to have. When I started, we had two or three guys that attended, but when I left, we probably had over 25 guys attending. The guys came together and shared their stories and joined our faith together. We developed a real strong bond. It was a really good time."
Following football, Lewis returned to his hometown, where he coached and taught physical education at his alma mater, George Washington High School. After 10 years, he went on to become an assistant principal at the elementary and middle school levels, eventually returning to George Washington as its principal. Lewis then moved to the school district's central office, where he was an administrator.
In 2018, he became the principal at the Abundant Life Christian Academy in Danville.
"This is the church that I attend and I'm trying to help them get their program back on track," Lewis said. "I grew up in a situation where I recognized early on that it was so key to get an education. I recognized that having kids get an education, it will give them access to opportunities so they can have a life. I enjoy working with kids and helping them succeed, helping them reach their goals.
"You run across so many kids that have so much potential, but they have those barriers in their life. So I enjoy just trying to help them remove those barriers. I enjoy helping kids be successful."
Founder of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Danville Area and the Danville Church & Community Tutorial Program, Lewis and his wife, Theresa, have two children: Kenny Jr., and Lauren; and three grandchildren: Jamison, Penelope, and Harper Lee.