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Randle El the model for Indiana's Lewis

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The box score from the Insight Bowl shows that Kellen Lewis took the final snap of the 2007 season for Indiana, firing a 30-yard touchdown pass to James Bailey with a second left in a 49-33 loss.

Lewis also took the first snap of 2008 for Indiana last Saturday against Western Kentucky, handing off to wideout Ray Fisher. So in a sense, Lewis didn't miss a thing. But after a tumultuous offseason of insubordination, depression and eventually redemption, the gap between snaps felt like forever.

"I felt like I sat out maybe two years," said Lewis, who was suspended for spring practice and had to re-earn his starting job in preseason camp. "I had butterflies in my stomach. It was kind of the same way I felt when I first got the starting job my redshirt freshman year. It was almost like starting over."

Fortunately for Indiana, Lewis looked poised in a 31-13 win, breaking off touchdown runs of 75 and 62 yards and throwing for two more scores. His 43rd career touchdown pass broke the school record set by former Big Ten Player of the Year Antwaan Randle El.

The record wasn't on Lewis' radar entering the game, but the junior sees the obvious parallels between himself and Randle El, whom he met after last year's game against Wisconsin.

"It kind of gave me some hope because I was a little bit taller than him," the 6-foot-1 Lewis said. "He was an athletic guy, I'm more of an athletic guy. He was the same way I was. Drop back and pass, don't try to force too much, you've got the legs, so just scramble around a little bit. He told me when you get a chance to go in and play, just remember when you drop back, you don't have to force anything in there. Just play football and have fun."

Lewis followed orders against Western Kentucky and showcased the skills that helped him earn All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore.

He still felt rusty with his passes, lamenting a 62.9 percent completion rate and an interception thrown in Hoosiers territory. But the long runs were bliss.

"No matter if it's 20 yards, 30 yards, 60 yards, it feels good to have that same strut and that same form that I had before I left," he said. "That's one thing I didn't lose."

Added coach Bill Lynch: "He showed his ability to run in open space and the speed to run away. The first [touchdown run] got us going. The last one kind of put the game away. But he also converted on some third-down situations where he scrambled."

Sound familiar, Hoosiers fans?

Unlike Randle El, who never reached a bowl despite a dominant career, Lewis hopes to lead Indiana back to the postseason this year. He's closing in on Randle El for second place on Indiana's all-time completions list and should eclipse the star in several categories by the time he's through.

"He's probably the most famous person in Indiana history for football, at least recently," Lewis said of Randle El. "And he's got success in the NFL. Looking at him and seeing how hard he worked to get where he's at, I'm hoping if I break some of his records and continue to work hard, I'll have my shot at the next level."