Alouettes receiver Eugene Lewis bent on improving, despite COVID-19 crisis
'Either you're going to adjust with it, or you're going to get left behind,' says football pro
The work begins for Eugene "Gino" Lewis each day with wall squats, push-ups, sit-ups and anything else that he can do at home.
Then he heads to a nearby park with a hill, along with his younger brother Emmanuel, who helps him set up some cones.
Lewis sprints around the cones, practising the routes he typically runs on a game day at Percival Molson Stadium for the Montreal Alouettes, finishing each one off with a burst to the top of the incline.
"It's all about just being able to adjust. Either you're going to adjust with it, or you're going to get left behind," Lewis said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down all the traditional training facilities an elite athlete like Lewis uses to prepare his body for the rigours of a professional football season.
And while Lewis is taking the pandemic seriously, he says he's not going to let it bring down his attitude.
"I'm going to keep trying to be a positive light, and keep trying to enjoy life, however I can."
Lewis has been adapting to tough situations his whole life.
He grew up in the Philadelphia area and didn't have an easy childhood. When he was young, his father struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, which forced him into some dangerous situations.
His father has since found God and become a minister, and they have rekindled their relationship.
The experience has heightened his appreciation for everything he has in his life today.
From high school quarterback to number 1 receiver
Lewis was a stand-out quarterback in high school and was then recruited to play college football for Penn State. After four seasons with the Nittany Lions from 2012 to 2015, he transferred to Oklahoma and played for the Sooners in 2016.
After college, he had try-outs with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks, but he wasn't offered a contract. He also played semi-pro basketball in the American Basketball Association before settling in with the Alouettes.
Lewis emerged as Montreal's number one receiver during a break-out season in 2019. The 26-year-old caught 72 passes for 1,133 yards, scored five touchdowns and was named an East Division all-star.
In early February, the Alouettes' new general manager Danny Maciocia inked him to a new one-year contract.
"I'm grateful, and I'm humble because I signed a new contract, and they wanted me back. They went out of their way to find a way to get me back, and I'm appreciative of them," Lewis said.
With the Alouettes facing a salary cap crunch, Maciocia's decision to re-sign Lewis meant he had to let others go. A key receiver from the 2019 team, DeVier Posey, was released in order to fit under that cap.
Lewis needs broad shoulders
Then the receiving corps suffered another blow when a player the Als were counting on in 2020 — Quan Bray — was arrested, leaving his future in doubt.
Lewis will have to shoulder much more responsibility this season than he did last year.
"I'm ready for all of that. I'm a number one receiver in the CFL and I know that. I know what I can be. I know my potential and my ability and I love it. I'm all for it," Lewis said
"This is a good time for me now to get better in my leadership skills."
Frustrated over the unknown
Staying in contact with the team's other leaders, such as quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and linebacker Hénoc Muamba has become part of Lewis' routine during this pandemic.
He says they communicate via FaceTime, working on plays for the coming season.
He's anxious to start working with them face to face at training camp, scheduled for May, although already it looks doubtful that will happen as planned.
"The frustration is that now we're in the unknown. We don't know exactly when we're going to start," Lewis said.
Whenever CFL training camps do open, Lewis is determined to be ready to deliver his best.
"Complaining and whining is not going to help the situation, so we just have to find a way to pull through — find a way to keep getting better every day."