Eagles Rookie Used To Unfamiliar Turf He Has Been Thrown Off The Deep End Before. A Mormon Mission To Taiwan Did That.

Posted: July 19, 1997

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Chad Lewis was 19 when he got the word: Taiwan. He would be serving his two-year Mormon mission in Taiwan.

``The only thing I knew about Taiwan was that everything is made there,'' Lewis said. ``Everything except me.''

He went to Provo, Utah, for two months of language lessons. He was assigned a partner, another young Mormon with whom he would spend the next two years. And then he was gone, plunged sink-or-swim style into a culture as different from his own as it was far from home.

``There are a lot of rules,'' said Lewis, a tight end who signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. ``You don't listen to music. You don't date. For the most part, you can't call home. You get a couple of chances, like Christmas and holidays.

``You get up every day and study from 6:30 to 9:30 in the morning and then you go out and work. You knock on doors; you teach people. It's like two years of two-a-days. You even work on Sunday. It's not like home, where you catch a nap and have a big meal with your family.

``It was,'' Lewis added, ``a great experience.''

There are 82 players on the Eagles' training-camp roster. There are veterans with job security and veterans clinging to their spots. There are rookies who are sure to make the team and rookies with no real shot at all. Lewis stands out from the crowd, and not just because he's 6-foot-6.

At 25, he's old for a rookie. The mission dropped him two years behind other players. He had a fine college career at Brigham Young, catching 111 passes for 1,376 yards in 44 games. But he shared tight-end duties as a senior and wound up slipping through the cracks in the draft.

Lewis was undrafted but not unwanted. When the seventh and final round was over, 11 teams called his agent and asked about his availability. Lewis chose the Eagles, a team that runs an offense similar to BYU's and that features BYU alum Ty Detmer at quarterback.

``I'm glad I didn't get drafted,'' Lewis said. ``This is the perfect fit for me.''

After the first practice in pads yesterday, head coach Ray Rhodes went ahead and compared Lewis to Brent Jones, the former San Francisco tight end. Rhodes wasn't basing it on one morning's work, of course. The Eagles signed Lewis before their first minicamp. He has been working with the coaches and participating in passing drills ever since.

``You would have to put him in a category with a Brent Jones,'' Rhodes said. ``He catches the ball well. He runs patterns. He knows how to get open. He's done everything we've expected him to do and better.''

``Chad has a great feel for working the middle of the field, finding the holes and getting open,'' Detmer said.

Lewis' eyes widened at the mention of Jones.

``He's my hero,'' he said. ``He plays with everything he has. He'd be diving over people and running over people for touchdowns and first downs. He's consistent. I want to be that kind of guy, who makes catches and gets first downs for our team.''

Jason Dunn, who broke into the starting lineup as a rookie last year, is at the top of the depth chart at tight end. Veteran Jimmie Johnson is back. The Eagles drafted Luther Broughton, a tight end from Furman, in the fifth round.

Except for Dunn, none of those players is guaranteed a job. Johnson, a solid blocker, figures to make the team. But there is a very good opportunity for Lewis here.

The first step for any rookie is adjusting to the atmosphere at training camp. Here, Lewis has an advantage. As strange as NFL culture may be, it can't be any more difficult an adjustment than two years in Taiwan.

``The hardest thing to get used to was the food,'' Lewis said. ``That made me homesick for a while. But I came to love it. Sometimes I would be eating and I would ask for more rice. And then I would ask for more rice. They would say, `No way you can eat all that. If you eat all that, your dinner is free.' I got some free meals that way.''

Lewis spent time in Taiwanese orphanages. He worked with patients who had suffered strokes.

``That meant a lot to me because my dad had a stroke just before I left,'' Lewis said. ``The Chinese stroke patients were great. We would sing songs to them, John Denver or whatever, and they loved that. They didn't have any idea what we were talking about, but they seemed to enjoy it.

``The Chinese people were so nice. Even if they thought we were idiots, they would invite us in and be so friendly. They would never slam a door in your face, which happened to people who went on missions to places in America. If it was hot, they would offer you hot water.''

The Chinese believe hot beverages cool you off on a hot day. And?

``Didn't work,'' Lewis said. ``I never understood that.''

What he came to understand was a language and a way of life foreign to his own. It was a heady experience for a young man. When Lewis came home, one of his brothers had married. He had a new sister-in-law to get to know and a family to reacquaint himself with. But the biggest change was in himself, and not just because he spoke fluent Chinese.

``I was a different person when I came back,'' Lewis said. ``My family and friends had to get used to it. I was more serious. I grew up quite a bit. My mission and playing football have been the two hardest experiences of my life. But they've also been the best.''

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