Leading up to Week 0 games on Aug. 28, HERO Sports is going to name the best returning FCS player by jersey number, 99-0. Due to rosters being updated at different times for teams across the country and to keep things consistent, jersey numbers are based on the 2020 fall-2021 spring season.
Note: Jersey numbers are based on 2020 fall-2021 spring rosters.
34: Jace Lewis, LB (Sr.) — Montana
Lewis will wear No. 37 this season. Wearing that number in a Montana football uniform is better than any individual accolade as Montana’s No. 37 is one of the very best traditions in the FCS.
The tradition of passing down the jersey number to a player born in Montana is even more special this time because the last player to wear No. 37 was Jesse Sims, who passed away in an ATV accident in May at the age of 24.
“Knowing he wanted me to wear it, that he thought I had what it takes to wear it and that I had some of the same values he had, is special,” Lewis said when it was announced he would wear No. 37. “I looked up to him from the time I got here at UM. He took me under his wing, kept me going, pushed me in the weight room and on the field. Off the field, he was just a great dude to be around. He came from a great family, and it showed with everything he did.”
Lewis is next in line to wear the number and is next in the long lineage of elite Montana linebackers.
In 2019, Dante Olson won the Buck Buchanan Award after he racked up 179 tackles. Lewis was fantastic as well, totaling 131 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He earned First Team All-Big Sky honors.
Lewis was a multi-time selection on 2020 preseason All-American First Teams along with being named the Big Sky Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. But the season was postponed to the spring. The Griz elected to play just two games, and Lewis recorded 10 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, and one interception.
With Olson gone, Lewis is the new leader on Montana’s defense. Expect a monstrous season for the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.