When the Baylor University football players rush out of the tunnel before games at McLane Stadium, Clint Lewis is right there with Seth Russell, KD Cannon and Shock Linwood.
The 41-year-old Lewis knows the drill well since he’s been doing it for 22 years.
“I love having Clint around,” Baylor cornerback Ryan Reid said. “He’s probably more hyped to be at football games than anybody. He’s more pumped up than we are. He walks around with a smile on his face.”
Lewis was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes lifelong intellectual disability and development delays. But Lewis hasn’t let the disorder stop him from working at H-E-B, becoming adept on computers and writing songs and poetry.
On fall Saturday afternoons, there’s no place Lewis would rather be than with the Baylor football team.
He usually arrives at McLane Stadium three hours before the game and helps the equipment managers pass out wristbands to the players.
During games, he’ll hold players’ helmets. But mostly he’s on the sideline to encourage the team.
“His love for Baylor football is deep,” said Brett Bufton, Baylor assistant director for equipment services. “If for some reason we don’t score more points than the other team, he takes it personally. It really upsets him. His passion for Baylor football makes it so exciting to have him.”
When Lewis really gets excited about the game, he breaks out various dance routines that often draw the attention of the Baylor fans.
“He’s a huge Michael Jackson fan,” Bufton said. “Whenever we’re winning and they play some music he likes, he shows off his moves. The crowd really gets into it, too. The TV catches it sometimes, and the players will dance with him.”
The Baylor players have a hard time keeping up with his dance steps.
“He can definitely dance,” Baylor center Kyle Fuller said. “You see him over there, and he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. It’s inspiring seeing somebody like that. He comes out to support us regardless of what’s going on with him.”
Clint’s father, retired McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis, is happy to see his son enjoying life. Not only was Clint born with Down syndrome, he had heart problems that required surgery when he was 2 months old. There was no guarantee he would live past infancy.
“The (open heart) surgery they did was pioneering,” Jim Lewis said. “When the doctor came in and said everything went fine, we were very positive about it. He’s far exceeded anything we expected.”
Clint Lewis attended the Gurley School in Waco for special-needs children before graduating from Mart High School. He grew up cheering for the Baylor athletic teams and got a chance to be around the track team when former coaches Clyde Hart and Tom Hill allowed him to hand out equipment.
In 1994, Clint Lewis got his opportunity to work with the Baylor football equipment managers. It was convenient for him to attend daily practices at Floyd Casey Stadium since he could walk from his job at the H-E-B store on Valley Mills Drive.
He continued to work at Baylor’s practices until the team moved workouts to the Highers Athletics Complex on University Parks Drive in 2009.
“He was on the Baylor payroll, handing out socks and jocks,” Jim Lewis said. “When he got off work, he’d walk over to the track or football field. He usually got off work at 2 or 2:30 p.m., and the timing worked out real good.”
Jim Lewis thinks it was former Baylor football coach Chuck Reedy’s idea for Clint to lead the team out of the tunnel.
“He led the team out of the tunnel for about 20 years,” Jim Lewis said.
During the coaching tenures of Reedy and Dave Roberts in the 1990s, Baylor football became a family affair for the Lewises. Jim Lewis carried the cable on the sidelines for the head coaches’ headsets. His son, Chad, did the same job for the defensive coaches.
“Clinton told us both we could do it as long as we didn’t embarrass him,” Jim Lewis said.
Clint Lewis has made friends with many of the Baylor players throughout the years. During the 1990s, he enjoyed the company of offensive linemen Danny Fletcher and Joe Jackson and linebacker Dean Jackson. In more recent seasons, he’s had fun being around quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Lache Seastrunk and kicker Chris Callahan.
Nobody has been around Clint Lewis longer than Baylor trainer Mike Sims, who has been employed at the university for 36 years. He’s seen Clint Lewis raise the spirits of players under six Baylor head coaches.
“He’s a celebrity,” Sims said. “He’s really a huge supporter of Baylor football. He’s very enthusiastic with all the people he deals with. That kind of energy rubs off on people.”
‘Until body gives out’
Clint Lewis said he wants to continue running out of the tunnel with the football team “until my body gives out.” His father likes seeing his son get so much enjoyment out of being around the football team.
“Every time he runs out, I almost come to tears,” Jim Lewis said. “He thinks all the football players are his brothers, and he just feels real strong with them.”