Ex-Viking lands at U for athlete development


Leo Lewis III knows a lot about the struggles of professional and student athletes.

Not only did he play with the Minnesota Vikings for 10 years — he holds four degrees in sports-related studies.

As the new associate athletics director for student-athlete development, Lewis will be responsible for helping student-athletes with their personal and career development.

Lewis became interested in how athletes transition in and out of the sports world when he noticed his teammates losing their money and families.

“It’s a difficult transition for people who spend energy as performers,” Lewis said.

While most student-athletes do not play professional sports, they still face a lot of pressure during their college career, Lewis said.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said Lewis will help student-athletes get involved in the community while balancing sports and academics.

“We are bringing young people here to represent this institution, leave here with a degree, and … a meaningful experience,” Maturi said. “Development means well-rounded.”

Maturi said that since he became the athletics director three years ago, he was concerned that there were no minorities in the senior athletics administration.

“I know the African-American and student-athlete minority population has been concerned about that,” Maturi said. “I had an ability to create a position that I felt was best served by a minority.”

Lewis said, “Student-athletes sometimes want to see people like themselves in leadership positions. The environment in Bierman (Field Athletic Building) is going to be a safe place to excel.”

Lewis will set up volunteer and mentoring positions for student-athletes, manage student-athlete development and supervise strength trainers, athletic medicine staff and equipment managers.

He is looking forward to working with student-athletes, he said.

“I was a student-athlete at one time,” Lewis said. “The dynamics haven’t changed so I can relate to them.”

During his time with the Vikings in 1997, Lewis completed his doctorate in kinesiology. After he ended his athletics career with the Vikings, he managed their player development program and completed a second master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Argosy University. His first master’s degree was in physical education from the University of Tennessee.

It was this blend of scholarly and professional work that made Lewis an ideal candidate for the new position, Maturi said.

“During his time as an athlete (for the Vikings), he earned his Ph.D., for goodness sake, which is incredibly impressive,” Maturi said.

Assistant Athletics Director Phil Esten said Lewis will help student-athletes develop the skills to become successful professionals, whether in the athletics industry or other fields.

“What’s unique about Leo is he’s been successful as a student-athlete, professional athlete and a professional industry person,” Esten said. “It’s important for student-athletes to see varying levels of academic achievement.”

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