In his final appearance in blue and white, there was one last touchdown.
Eugene Lewis, whose family now lives in Pittston, had already bridged plenty of gaps during his time at Penn State. The former Wyoming Valley West football star and Meyers grad had committed to play for Joe Paterno, officially signed on with Bill O’Brien and helped lead the Nittany Lions out from underneath NCAA sanctions with James Franklin.
So it was fitting that the wide receiver got another new era started earlier this month when he caught the first career touchdown pass from Trace McSorley in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
As for Lewis himself, he’ll now be catching balls from a Heisman Trophy hopeful — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
Having graduated from Penn State in December, Lewis is transferring to play for the Sooners in 2016. Because he has his degree already, he will be eligible to suit up for Oklahoma this fall, provided he enrolls in a program not offered at Penn State.
“Geno has been a valued member of our team and has made some clutch and memorable catches during our two seasons with him,” Franklin said in a statement. “He has had influence on and has been a great mentor to our young group of receivers.
“We are very proud to see him leave Penn State with his degree in hand and wish him the best of luck.”
The decision to move on for his fifth and final season of college football was not a surprising one. Lewis was the Lions’ No. 3 target behind Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton in 2015 and his numbers had taken a sharp decline.
At Oklahoma, he has an opportunity to step into a more prominent role, as the Sooners are losing two of their top three receivers, including All-American Sterling Shepard.
“Like anybody, you want to have more catches and more opportunities,” Lewis said after the TaxSlayer Bowl. “I did everything I could to just help my team win each and every time, and I wouldn’t change nothing about it.
“Our receiving corps, we’re such a tight group. We all want everybody to do well. I love all them guys, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
Nine days later, Lewis announced his decision publicly, leaving Penn State with 1,181 yards on 90 receptions and eight touchdown catches. For good measure, he channeled his days as a Valley West quarterback in November against Northwestern, throwing a highlight-reel score to Hamilton off of a broken play.
Though his role in Penn State’s offense shrank this fall, he scored in three straight games in the middle of the season and drew heavy praise from Franklin for his attitude.
“I’m really proud of Geno because he hasn’t had as many opportunities this year as he’s had in the past,” Franklin said during the season. “And to be honest with you, I think he’s handled it really, really well. Is he happy about it? No. But does he have a great attitude? Does he come to work every single day?
“I’m proud of him. His attitude has been great at practice every single day. His work ethic has been really good. Body language, all those things that coaches talk about has been really good. So he has taken a challenging situation for some people and turned it into a real positive, and I’m really, really proud of him and his growth.”
The next time he takes the field, Lewis will be in Oklahoma crimson instead of Penn State blue. And he’ll have a shot to impress pro scouts with the Sooners coming off a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma plays two national spotlight games in September against Houston and Ohio State as well as a Big 12 schedule that includes Baylor, TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State.
It’s a big opportunity for Lewis. But one that won’t make him forget where he started.
“This was not an easy decision, but I feel like it is time to move on to the next chapter in my life,” Lewis wrote in an open letter.
“I appreciate everyone for the support and I hope you understand my situation. You are the best fans in the country. With all that being said, I want to thank my family and everyone who supported me through my Penn State journey. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for me.
“Penn State will always be in my heart and no one can ever take that away.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse