DJ Durkin, who as an assistant coach at Florida had recruited Lewis at Gonzaga High in Washington, was hired after Lewis’ freshman year to coach the Terps.
JC Jackson, who started his career as a Gator, had befriended Lewis during the recruiting process and the two cornerbacks had kept in touch after Jackson transferred to Maryland before Durkin’s first season.
Lewis might have even played with Jackson while Durkin was still on the staff at Florida had he not flipped his commitment to the Seminoles right before signing day.
“When I was choosing schools [out of high school], we talked a little bit,” Lewis recalled. “When I was committed to Florida, he was committed to Florida, so we've been friends for a long time.”
Lewis, who played two seasons at Florida State, renewed relationships with both Jackson and Durkin when he decided to transfer to Maryland last year. Lewis also knew Terps assistant coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim since high school.
While sitting out last fall in accordance with NCAA rules, Lewis said, Jackson became a mentor.
“JC, he’s a great guy, he taught me a lot,” Lewis said after making his unofficial debut for the Terps in Saturday’s annual Red-White spring game. “Being under his wing [last] fall was good for me.”
A redshirt junior, Lewis won't get a chance to play with Jackson in the secondary since Jackson decided to forgo his senior year to turn pro. But there’s a good chance he might replace him.
Lewis made one of the highlight plays at Maryland Stadium in the White team’s 31-3 victory over the Red team, a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown off freshman quarterback Tyler DeSue.
“Always fun to get a pick-six, especially here,” Lewis said. “It was my first time playing in a long time. My family and friends were here. … It was good to get one under my belt.”
Lewis had one interception in his career as a Seminole, in the 2016 season opener against Mississippi. It came early in the second half with Florida State trailing 28-13, and it helped fuel the team’s 45-34 comeback win.
“It was a long time ago,” Lewis said.
A hip injury later that season cut short his sophomore year. Seeing the possibility of less playing time after losing his starting job, Lewis decided right before the start of preseason camp last summer to transfer.
With Jackson now gone, the picture at cornerback appears to be in flux and the opportunity is there for Lewis to start.
Junior Tino Ellis has the most experience, having started six games last season. Senior RaVon Davis, junior Antwaine Richardson and Lewis all appear to be the mix, as well as junior transfer Rayshad Lewis, who split the spring between receiver and cornerback.
“I just feel everybody plays with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody feels they’re above anyone else or anything like that,” Marcus Lewis said. “We feel like we’re at the bottom. I feel like when you play like that, it helps you play better, it helps you play more aggressive, more hungry.
“Coach Aazaar has done a great job instilling that in us. You can’t take a play off. You’ve got to go hard, each and every rep. There’s always someone behind you trying to take your spot. I think if we carry that into fall camp, we’ll be special as a unit.”
Marcus Lewis has the kind of size (6 feet 1, 190 pounds) Durkin and Abdul-Rahim are trying to get in the secondary.
“I think one of the best things about Marcus is how physical he's been,” Durkin said earlier in the spring. “He’s really shown up as a guy who’s playing physical. We always knew his speed, his coverage ability was there.”
Marcus Lewis is one of four transfers — along with Rayshad Lewis (Utah State), defensive end Byron Cowart (Auburn) and linebacker Tre Watson (Illinois) — expected to play major roles in trying to solidify a defense that has been among the worst in the Big Ten under Durkin.
Asked whether he needs to take a leadership role, Marcus Lewis said: “I feel like I do, being an experienced guy that played in the ACC a couple of years. I just try to let everybody else feed on my energy, I just go up and lead by example. Not try to do too much, just try to do my job, that's it.”