Muzzled no more, Keith Lewis is ready to tackle last college foe

EUGENE Ñ An unbridled Keith Lewis can be an entertaining thing.

Coach Mike Bellotti put Lewis on mute in late October for saying inflammatory things about Washington for the second year in a row.

The volume went back up when Bellotti let Lewis speak with the media again after the Ducks thrashed Oregon State in the Civil War.

Lewis hardly took such disciplinary action seriously.

'Learn a lesson? Nah, I really don't care about it,' says the all-Pacific-10 Conference safety and special teams player, who will play his final college game Dec. 31 in the Sun Bowl. 'I look at it as a vacation from talking with the media.'

Lewis rips a Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer for arranging 'bits and pieces' of quotes to make them sound more inflammatory, but he generally laughs off any suggestion that his comments made the difference in UW's 42-10 win.

'I definitely say what I want to say,' he says.

So, Keith, what do you think about Minnesota?

'We normally do pretty well against Big Ten (Conference) teams,' he says. 'They're a team that's going to run the ball. Take away their run game, and they really don't have much going for them.'

What about the Gophers' quarterback, Asad Abdul-Khaliq?

'He threw five interceptions, but that's due to them running the ball so much Ñ two 1,000-yard rushers,' Lewis says, 'and also due to them running a bunch of short patterns.'

Lewis' opinions will certainly be part of his legacy at Oregon, as will his occasional rogue behavior. Coaches kicked him out of practice, and the loquacious senior almost revels in his attitude.

Many times he and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti 'have bumped heads,' and neither Lewis nor the fiery Italian backed down.

'Sometimes he calls me out, thinking I don't want to be here, that I put myself above everybody,' Lewis says.

'There have been times in his career where he was less coachable than we would have liked,' Bellotti acknowledges. But, he adds, 'no question he loves the game, plays very hard Ñ his effort has never been questioned Ñ and he's improved dramatically this year with his play and leadership skills.'

Lewis learned his lesson, saying of Aliotti: 'It's a love-hate relationship, but at the end of the day, that's my boss and I'm just a player.'

Lewis has blocked six punts in his Oregon career and intercepted 11 passes. As a three-year starter, he has been a tenacious defender with good speed and hitting ability and great pursuit skills. Many, many times he has made touchdown-saving tackles. This year, he has been a mainstay in the work-in-progress secondary, which emphasizes Lewis helping cornerbacks.

'No matter who you put out there Ñ we could put coach Aliotti out there with a bad hip Ñ and we could cover in the scheme we have,' Lewis says.

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