There are plenty of players that go on to small schools and burst onto the NFL radar during the said time at the small schools. This year, two second-round selections were spent on Kyle Dugger and Jeremy Chinn from Lenoir Rhyne and Southern Illinois respectively. Even some quarterbacks have come from small schools in recent years, most notably Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Last year, 11 players from Division III were represented on the 32 NFL teams. That list includes Steven Hauschka, Derek Carrier, Nicholas Morrow, Matt Gono, Ali Marpet, Jeremy Vujnovich, Brandon Zylstra, Michael Joseph, and three players that went to schools in Wisconsin. Dan Arnold was from Wisconsin-Platteville, while Nate Trewyn who was on the Buccaneers practice squad and Jake Kumerow of the Green Bay Packers went to Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Whitewater Warhawks are a powerhouse in Division III as they placed second in the nation last year, and they might be here to stay with the transfer of Evan Lewandowski.
Lewandowski led Lake Zurich to the Class 7-A State Title Game in 2017 after he tossed for 2,786 yards and 29 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he received no Division I scholarships. He decided to take his talents to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and came out firing during his sophomore campaign last year where he started getting more recognition. He threw for 2,804 yards and 28 touchdowns and almost led La Crosse to a win over Whitewater, falling four points short. His best game was against Wisconsin-River Falls where he threw for 591 yards and nine touchdowns, including five in the first quarter, which both tied for NCAA D-III records.
Lewandowski entered the transfer portal after last season and committed to the University of Maryland. All signs pointed to him finally getting his shot at being a Division I quarterback until Taulia Tagovailoa announced he was transferring to Maryland from Alabama. Lewandowski ultimately ended up transferring a little under three hours away to Whitewater where he will be competing for a national title.
I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions and learn more about his football career.
Question: Where did you find your passion for football?
Answer: I started playing tackle football when I was seven years old. I was placed at the quarterback position from day one and I’ve been in love with the game ever since. My passion for football grew tremendously and has stuck ever since my first win. There’s no better feeling than getting a win, knowing that the hard work and dedication is paying off as a team.
Question: What was your response to getting no Division I offers and how has that affected you?
Answer: Having no Division I offers out of high school has only affected me in a positive way. I don’t try to prove anyone wrong and I would most certainly rather prove myself right. I’m very thankful for all the football programs that have given me an opportunity to play for them, as this allows me to continue to play the game I love.
Question: How was your experience playing for UW La Crosse and what did you like most about playing there?
Answer: I had a great time playing for La Crosse for the past two years. At La Crosse, I was able to play with a few of my teammates from high school, which is what I enjoyed most.
Question: What would you say has been the best moment of your career so far?
Answer: The best moment of my career is when I tied two Division III records in one game. I threw for nine touchdowns against UW River Falls, including five in one quarter. During the game I was locked in, knowing that we needed to keep scoring if we wanted to come out with the win. Fortunately for me, that meant throwing the ball. I had great blocking from the offensive line and an even better game from the receivers. I didn’t really have much of a reaction until after the game when my phone started blowing up, but I’m just glad we won.
Question: What made you choose UW Whitewater?
Answer: When I originally entered the transfer portal, Coach Jennings was the first coach to reach out. At first, Coach Jennings reached out to wish me luck as I was searching for a new school and football program. I’m very lucky that Coach Jennings stayed in touch and that the interest remained mutual. I chose Whitewater because of the outstanding coaching staff, facilities, and the program being powered by tradition.
Question: Who do you model your playing style after the most?
Answer: I model my playing style after Brett Favre. Favre was a fierce competitor and a true gunslinger. Similar to Favre, I believe that I can make any throw, as I possess the arm strength needed to throw it down the field effectively. While watching a gunslinger, you’re looking for those, “did you see that?!” moments and I believe I’ve made a lot of those types of plays so far in my career, just like Favre. Some of those plays include throwing the ball backward, shot-putting it to a teammate, or fitting the ball into very tight windows. A lot of people call these throws risky, but I know that most of the time the reward is greater than the risk.
Question: What transpired with the Maryland transfer situation?
Answer: I’m very thankful for the opportunity that Maryland gave me, but I believe that it isn’t the best choice at this time. Although it didn’t work out, it’s definitely a confidence booster knowing that I can compete at that level.
Question: UW Whitewater placed second in all of Division III, how excited are you to play for a team that is contending for a national title?
Answer: The coaches and players at Whitewater all have the same mindset, as they are looking to win a national title every year. I’m very excited to join a program that is powered by tradition, which in this case is winning and competing at a very high level.
Question: What is different schematically from La Crosse to Whitewater?
Answer: The offensive schemes are similar, but what matters is how you perform the scheme and work as a unit. The coaches will run the plays that they believe are best and fit the skillset of players that they have, but it’s our job as players to execute those plays.
Question: What is one part of your game that you feel you can improve on the most?
Answer: I think I can improve my running ability. If I’m able to get a first down running or throwing the football it will force defenses to play differently and make our job as an offense a lot easier.
Question: What are your expectations for this year?
Answer: This upcoming season will be my year off and then I have two years of eligibility remaining. I hope to learn the playbook, inside and out, while also building a relationship with my new teammates and coaches.
Question: How are you preparing for this season with what has transpired and what do you think will happen as of right now?
Answer: I’m staying in shape and getting stronger by utilizing Whitewater’s strength and conditioning program. All I can do at this time is hope for a season.
I would like to thank Evan for taking some time to answer the questions that I asked and look forward to seeing his progression at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
A few days after this interview took place, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association canceled their championships in football, meaning Whitewater won’t be able to play any games this season.
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