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OU’s Lewis says he won’t be playing for revenge against Texas

Travis Lewis will play in memory of the late Austin Box. He’ll play for all his Oklahoma Sooners teammates and coaches. But, no, he won’t be playing for revenge when the Sooners tee it up against the Texas Longhorns on Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. “Oh, man,” Lewis said. “This is my favorite game of the year. There’s no bigger game, other than the national championship game.” For his fourth and final time as a player, the OU senior linebacker from Lee High School will charge out of the tunnel in front of more than 90,000 fans. A sea of OU crimson on one side. A sea of UT burnt orange on the other. Two teams, one game, more than a century of memories. For the 106th time, bragging rights will be on the line in the fabled Red River Rivalry. “Emotions are over-pouring,” Lewis said in a telephone interview. “It’s really the team that controls those emotions best that has the best chance to win. But sometimes you just can’t control it.” That’s why OU fans love Lewis, who has surged into seventh in career tackles in school history. Even when things go badly for the Sooners, Lewis continues to play with passion, throwing his body around, trying to turn the tide. For instance, in his first Red River game in 2008, UT won 45-35, and Lewis was called for two questionable late hits on Colt McCoy. All that aside, he rang up 19 tackles, the second-most tackles for a Sooners player against the Longhorns in the history of the rivalry. The performance trails only Rod Shoate’s 21 stops against the Longhorns in 1974. “Travis is a tremendous player,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He’s one of the best linebackers in the country for sure, if not the best. He is a great player.” Brown checked his memory momentarily while trying to process how such a talented player, who grew up 90 miles south of Austin, somehow got away. “I can’t remember what happened,” Brown said. “But we sure messed up when we didn’t get him.” Lewis chuckled at that statement. “He’s a great coach,” Lewis said. “You know, we really respect each other.” Lewis, a 2007 Lee graduate with 385 tackles in 43 games for the Sooners, said the Longhorns never offered him a scholarship. “They came in a little bit at the very end,” he said. “In the end, there was no scholarship offer, and, you know, OU thought really highly of me. I felt like I chose the right place.” Brown once talked to Lewis about it on the floor of the Cotton Bowl. “We talked and laughed about it,” Lewis said. “But there’s no hatred. There’s no revenge factor with that. We’re just two great competitors.” Lewis will have all sorts of reasons to compete when the No. 3 Sooners take on the 11th-ranked Longhorns. First, he wants to even the score against the Longhorns, who are 2-1 against the Lewis-led Sooners. Next, he will wear jersey No. 12 instead of his usual 28. He’ll wear it in honor of Box, a former OU teammate who passed away in May. As a team co-captain, Lewis gets to decide who will wear Box’s old number for each game. Former New Braunfels star Tom Wort, OU’s starting middle linebacker, wore it in the opener against Tulsa. “Austin was one of my best friends,” Lewis said. “I want to go out there and represent him and play like he did.” Lewis loves to compete, period, and he doesn’t take it lightly when a physical setback threatens his playing time. Shelved temporarily on Aug. 8 when he broke his left big toe in practice, Lewis listened as doctors told him he could be out for eight weeks. “I told them 51/2, and I meant it,” Lewis said. Lewis stuck to his own timetable. The preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year returned to play on Sept. 17 in a top-five showdown at Florida State. On his first day back in uniform, he tied for the team lead in tackles with eight and broke up a pass. The Sooners, in turn, beat the Seminoles 23-13. “There was some risk involved,” Lewis said. “But I feel I’m a fast healer. The only way I wasn’t going to play in that game is if they didn’t take me on the plane.” Lewis didn’t waste time while he was sitting out. When he wasn’t lifting weights or working on aerobics in the swimming pool, he was talking to his teammates, trying to make sure everyone was focused. “When you’re not playing, you can easily drift into the woodwork,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “It is hard to have a say when you’re not out there doing it. But the players have so much respect for him. “He made sure he continued to (lead) in front of everybody. It made a big difference.”

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