Defense of a legacy
How UB football is honoring a teammate
Sitting in his hotel room, senior cornerback Cameron Lewis prepares for his day. The sounds of The Isley Brothers and Janet Jackson ring through his headphones. All seems normal for Lewis, who listens to classic R&B to get ready.
Lewis will put on his suit and change his playlist to modern hip-hop. Now, the sounds of Travis Scott and Kanye West join him as he walks onto the team bus for the journey to Lincoln Financial Field. It’s just another gameday for the Detroit native.
As Lewis enters the locker room, he’s greeted with an unfamiliar sight: a different jersey. Lewis’ jersey number was changed to 41 on Sept. 8, as opposed to his typical number of 39.
In an opening week press conference, head coach Lance Leipold announced the team will rotate who wears jersey number 41, in honor of the late Solomon Jackson. Jackson was a linebacker on the team who died at 20-years-old. He concluded his second season on the team when he had a medical emergency during a Bulls conditioning session. He passed a week later in the hospital. Players who wear the number honor Jackson and his time here.
“I was proud and nervous,” Lewis said. “I wanted to wear his jersey proud. I did not want to bring it dishonor. But once I got out there on Temple's field, I felt something over me and felt like he was watching over me. He played a big part for why I had that big game.”
Lewis had the best game of his collegiate career on Saturday. He finished with four tackles and two interceptions that earned him the Mid-American Conference East Defensive Player of the Week award. It was the first of his career.
The two-interception game was the first by a Bull since the 2015 season. Lewis vividly remembers both plays, but could not reveal the names of the plays the team called. On his second interception, he thanked senior safety Brandon Williams and senior linebacker Khalil Hodge for their coverage since the ball was tipped up and Lewis grabbed it.
Williams earned the right to wear number 41 in the week one matchup against Delaware State. Solomon Jackson and Williams played against eachother in high school. Jackson defeated Williams’ team in the state championship while Williams was a junior. Williams thinks of Jackson as a brother.
“When I came up here for my junior year [visit] he was my host,” Williams said. “So he kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Showed me around campus and stuff like that. Whenever I needed something; money, a couch to sleep on, he was always there. A helping hand.”
Lewis says he sees a lot of similarities between Williams and the way Jackson conducted himself.
“Brandon [Williams] is a hard worker for sure, team player and I like his aggressiveness, Lewis said. “I play with a lot of aggressiveness too. With Solomon, I feel that he and Brandon have a lot in common. They put players before themselves. Brandon helps the freshman move in. He has that caring aspect that Solomon had.”
UB football has been described as a “brotherhood” by Lewis. For months, the players are left alone with one another with limited time to see their families. Players like Lewis have had the team become their family.
Leipold described Lewis as an infectious leader. That leadership comes from his father’s influence on him. According to Lewis, his father did not let him and his siblings get involved with the negative influences in Detroit. His own father grew up in the “poor end” of Detroit and did not want his sons to experience what he went through.
“Unselfishness,” Leipold said. “We've asked Cameron at different times in his career to do different things. There's never a wavering look on his face from what we ask him to do. He’s a hard working, team guy, plays the game for all the right reasons, the practice habits, everything that goes through it.”
Williams is a leader in his own right. A lot of what he practices is learned from the habits of Jackson. Jackson always made sure the young players were hustling, on top of their games and not falling behind, according to Williams. Those are aspects that he tries to bring to his position group.
The memory of Jackson is still in the minds of many of those who shared the field with him. When the number is announced at a team meeting, the whole team congratulates and cheers for the player who earned the weekly honor.
“I almost cried the first time I put that jersey on,” Williams said. “It's a spiritual feeling because I've known him personally. I get to represent him the right way, every single time.”
“I'd just tell him thank you,” Lewis said. “Everything he's done for me and since I was here as a freshman. That's when he had his biggest impact on me. I just want to say thank you for everything you've done and I miss you every day.”
Both Lewis and Williams have felt an extra weight on their shoulders when putting on the special jersey. Neither want to disappoint “Solo” and make sure to make his memory proud.