Ohio State is exploring the possibility of adding a kicker through the transfer portal.
Even though the Buckeyes have a returning Lou Groza Award finalist in Noah Ruggles, they hosted former USC kicker Parker Lewis for a visit on spring game weekend. In fact, Ohio State was the first school to reach out to Lewis when he entered the transfer portal in December.
That was before the Buckeyes knew if Ruggles would return to Ohio State for his additional year of eligibility. Lewis’ initial contact with Ohio State came with former quality control coach Joe Bolden, who was previously a special teams quality control coach at USC when Lewis began his career there, and Bolden has since left the Buckeyes to become Nevada’s special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. But even since Bolden departed and Ruggles announced his decision to play another season with the Buckeyes, Ohio State has continued to recruit Lewis as a potential addition to this year’s roster.
Lewis, who had touchbacks on 27 of his 34 kickoffs for USC last season, could be an immediate upgrade for the Buckeyes as a kickoff specialist over Ruggles, who had only 21 touchbacks on 99 kickoffs last year. But Lewis wants to kick field goals wherever he transfers, too, and he says Ohio State’s coaches have told him he’ll get the opportunity to compete for that job if he chooses the Buckeyes, even after Ruggles made 20 of his 21 field goal attempts in 2021.
“What they said is, 'This wouldn't be Ohio State if we played favorites,'” Lewis, who made 17 of his 22 field goal attempts last season, told Eleven Warriors. “So they obviously are interested in me doing kickoffs, but I'm very interested in having the field goal job as well.
“If I end up going to Ohio State, it'll mean I feel like I could win that job.”
“I believe I’m one of the better kickers in the country.”– Parker Lewis
While Lewis was USC’s starting kicker for the past two seasons, he said his years with the Trojans were difficult because of coaching staff changes that took place. The special teams coordinator who recruited Lewis, John Baxter, was fired less than two weeks before he enrolled at USC. The special teams coordinator who replaced him, Sean Snyder, expected kickers to take far more reps in practice than Lewis was accustomed to, which Lewis said led to injuries. He ultimately made his decision to transfer after learning new USC head coach Lincoln Riley would not be hiring a dedicated special teams coordinator.
“Entering the back end of my college football career, I'm looking for a place where I'm really going to be able to get developed and give me the best opportunity to go to the NFL,” Lewis said. “So I had a lot of conversation with my parents on what was the right thing to do, and we all agreed looking somewhere else would be the best option.”
Lewis was immediately intrigued by the possibility of playing for Ohio State once he heard from the Buckeyes, in part because of his relationship with Bolden but also because of his friendship with former Ohio State kicker Blake Haubeil, who he says is “like an older brother.” Lewis has known Haubeil since he was in seventh grade, and he watched the Buckeyes often during Haubeil’s Ohio State career, even attending Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl game against Clemson in 2019 to support Haubeil.
“Before I was committed to USC, Ohio State was my team that I rooted for because I was watching all of Blake’s games,” Lewis said.
Based on his conversations with Haubeil and Ohio State special teams coordinator Parker Fleming, Lewis believes playing for Ohio State would be a much better fit for him than USC was.
“Coach Fleming is more of like a family feel,” Lewis said. “They have it down pat for sure at Ohio State. I love their system and how they operate and manage their specialists.”
Lewis was also a teammate of current Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke at Saguaro High School (Scottsdale, Arizona), and he likes what he’s heard from Burke about the Buckeyes, too.
“I’ve talked to him a lot on Ohio State, and one thing I like that he said is he said it's ran just like Saguaro. If Saguaro were to be a college, he said it's ran just like Saguaro,” Lewis said. “He’s said a lot of really, really, really great things.”
During his visit to Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Lewis was struck by the enthusiasm of Ohio State’s fan base.
“I was telling my dad, there were more fans in that stadium than there were any USC home game I played my freshman and sophomore year. And that was a spring game,” Lewis said. “So football is like a religion out here. I mean, people would just eat, sleep, breathe it. It was super cool to see how big of a deal it was out here.”
Lewis, who was ranked as the No. 7 kicker in the 2020 recruiting class and still has three years of collegiate eligibility, expects to select his transfer destination within the next two to three weeks, as he plans to enroll at his new college in May. He’s also considering Miami, Notre Dame, Florida and Ole Miss.
He’s looking for a school that has a rich football tradition and coaches he feels he can trust.
“The biggest thing I'm looking for is going to a place with obviously rich history and an established culture. That's a really big deal to me. I didn't really have that at USC,” Lewis said. “And also a good relationship with the special teams coordinator. Their system, with how they would handle my development and all that, those are two of my big points.”
Lewis’ claim to fame from his USC career came in the Trojans’ second game of last season against Stanford, when Lewis was ejected from the game for a targeting penalty on the opening kickoff. Lewis, who’s well-built for a kicker at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, says he still hears about that penalty all the time, and he doesn’t mind people knowing he can hit.
USC's kicker just got disqualified for targeting on the very first play of the game pic.twitter.com/VxxM1nCSbM— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 12, 2021
“Kickers don't really get the most respect of their position and all that, but I absolutely love to lift,” Lewis said. “I'm in the weight room all the time. I try to put in extra work where I can in other areas. I definitely do take pride in how I look and how I act outside of being a kicker, for sure.”
Lewis wants to be best known for his ability to kick, however, and he’s confident he will be at his next destination.
“I believe I’m one of the better kickers in the country,” Lewis said. “I've been told if I have another really good year, because not many kickers can do both field goals and kickoffs, that I'm going to have a big decision if I want to enter the draft or stay. So I'm very confident in myself.”