MIAMI This is the best way Travis Lewis can think of to heal.
Lewis jump from the bottom of the depth chart into a leadership role for No. 2 Oklahoma was accompanied by the most painful of losses.
Right in the middle of his breakout redshirt-freshman season, Lewis weeks-old daughter succumbed in a fight for life that began when she was born prematurely. The linebacker has kept working through his grief, helping lead the Sooners into Thursday night s BCS championship game against top-ranked Florida.
The death is still so painful for Lewis that he declines to talk about specifics, except to say football has helped get him through.
It s been a blessing in more ways than one. You have your things and you learn from them. You grow from it, the 20-year-old Lewis said yesterday. You just can t sit back and blame a lot because you re going to have things in life that don t go your way, that you re confused about because you don t think should have happened to you. But you grow from it.
I m on the biggest stage in the nation right now.
Word crept out after the Sooners Nov. 1 win against Nebraska that Lewis had been playing with a heavy heart following the death of his daughter earlier in the week. His teammates let Lewis know he could lean on them, visiting his house and sending a flood of text messages.
Everybody was behind him 100 percent and let him know that whatever he needed to talk about, whatever he needed, just holler at us and we ll get it done for him, fellow linebacker Keenan Clayton said.
Led by veteran Ryan Reynolds, the linebackers had become a close-knit group over the summer with cookouts and sessions of video games, and they bonded even more after being singled out as the weakness of Oklahoma s defense at the start of the season.
Lewis was among the primary question marks. He had no experience when he emerged as a starter on the weak side for the season opener. Even then, he was thought to be only a temporary replacement until Austin Box, another redshirt freshman, recovered from knee surgery in time for the second game of the season.
Instead, Lewis became a playmaker for the Sooners and was thrust into a leadership role after Reynolds suffered a season-ending knee injury against Texas. He became responsible for getting the linebackers lined up correctly before each snap, taking over duties he d only watched when Reynolds was playing.
So when tragedy struck, Lewis simply couldn t turn his back on his teammates.
They ve been here for me all season, so I felt like I couldn t let them down. Whatever I was going through, I wanted to be here for them, he said.
His teammates are proud of him.
It was hard for me because I love Travis like he s my brother, like we came from the same momma, Clayton said.
It was hard on me when it happened, so just imagine how hard it was on him. And look how strong he stood. You could never tell that anything like that happened.
Lewis credits his season of watching eventual first-round NFL draft pick Curtis Lofton with helping get him prepared for a year in which he snapped Brian Bosworth s school record for tackles by a freshman with 136.
He also was named the Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year. In the Sooners win against Texas Tech, he forced a fumble and grabbed one of his four interceptions this season.
It s awful to have to go through something like that, especially at that young of an age. I can t even imagine losing a daughter like that, Box said. We felt for him. We hurt for him as well.
It s just an unbelievable story, and he s just a tremendous guy, very strong, to be able to accomplish what he s done.
HARVIN RECUPERATING: Percy Harvin says his sprained ankle is nearly healed the result of spending nearly 100 percent of his time in the training room over the holidays.
The Gators speedy playmaker, stayed in Gainesville, Fla., every day but Christmas and New Year s Day during Florida s winter break.
Harvin estimated he was in the training room 15 hours each day with trainer Kyle Johnston which would put him in there from about the time he wakes up until he goes to bed.
All that work, though, got Harvin to the point that he s feeling about 90 percent, and that s plenty good enough for him to play against Oklahoma.