November 1st, 2011: Just 38 days after having his redshirt removed before a victory over Cal Poly, true freshman wide receiver and return specialist Tommylee Lewis welcomed himself to the national spotlight.
In what has become the de facto championship game in the Mid-American Conference's western division, Lewis received the opening kickoff with two feet in his end zone. After making Toledo kicker Jeremiah Detmer miss at the 35 yard line, Lewis angled toward the sideline. With a convoy of blockers, including key blocks from Tommy Davis, Pat McAvoy, and Marckie Hayes, Lewis sprinted 100 yards before diving into the blue and gold end zone, giving the Huskies a 6-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game.
Toledo responded quickly, with an Eric Page touchdown reception tying the game less than five minutes later. Once again, Lewis took center stage.
Lewis caught the kick with a foot on his own five yard line. He sprinted down the right hash mark before cutting inside at his own 30, leaving a Toledo defender in his wake. With the aid of a DeMarcus Grady block at midfield, Lewis raced down the left sideline, outrunning Detmer, and making Northern Illinois history in the process.
Less than five minutes into the game, Lewis had amassed 195 kick return yards and two touchdowns. Combined with six Chandler Harnish touchdown passes, it was enough to give NIU a thrilling 63-60 victory over the Rockets in the Glass Bowl, a key victory on the Huskies' march to their first MAC Championship since 1983.
After spending his freshman campaign primarily as a return specialist, Lewis broke out as one of the best playmakers in the MAC in 2012. His 1,318 all purpose yards were good for second on the team, only behind Jordan Lynch.
The diminutive wide receiver had a coming out party of sorts in a 41-40 victory over Army, hauling in a 69 yard touchdown pass from Lynch and adding a 21 yard touchdown run.
In a key, late October conference victory over Western Michigan, Lewis hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions, adding in a 44 yard punt return and 36 yard kickoff return as well. In total, Lewis posted 175 yards and two touchdowns, propelling the Huskies to a 48-34 victory.
A 93 yard kickoff return for a touchdown earned Lewis MAC West Specialist of the week honors after the season finale in snowy Ypsilanti against Eastern Michigan.
In Northern Illinois' historic Orange Bowl appearance, Lewis was arguably the most impressive Huskie. He hauled in five catches for 61 yards, including an electrifying 25 yard catch and run to set up a 1st and goal opportunity in the first half.
After losing Martel Moore and Perez Ashford due to graduation, Tommylee was expected to shoulder the load at wide receiver entering 2012, and he hit the ground running.
In an opening week upset against Iowa, Lewis hauled in five passes for 82 yards and a pair of scores. A week later, 56 receiving yards and 104 rushing yards in a 45-35 triumph over Idaho was good enough to earn MAC West Player of the Week honors.
In an October victory in DeKalb over Eastern Michigan, Lewis' full arsenal of talent was on display. Lewis grabbed 8 passes for 107 yards, tacked on 81 yards on the ground, and also threw a 17 yard touchdown pass to eventual Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch.
Two weeks later, a career high 12 receptions aided the Huskies 48-27 victory of MAC challenger Ball State, keeping the Huskies hopes alive for a second consecutive BCS bowl bid.
In total, Lewis caught 86 passes for 715 yards, rushed for 356 yards, and added 312 kick return yards during his junior season. His efforts landed him first team All-MAC honors as well as honorable mention All-American honors by Sports Illustrated.
After losing Jordan Lynch to graduation following the 2013 season, Lewis was expected to be a safety blanket for eventual new starting quarterback Drew Hare. However, an early season lower body injury kept him out of all but two games last season. Fortunately for Lewis and the Huskies, the NCAA granted him a medical redshirt allowing him to return as a fifth year senior in 2015.
The #16 player on our list of top MAC football players will lead a group of skill players including Aregeros Turner, Juwan Brescacin, Kenny Golladay, and Chad Beebe and hopes to help Northern Illinois capture their sixth consecutive trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship game.