TEMPE, Ariz. -- In his best moments, Deantre Lewis reads the defense and reacts. Instinct takes over. There is no time for thought.
In his lesser moments, the past creeps in and the Arizona State running back reaches for the spot where the bullet entered his leg.
"Thats something I dont want to do," Lewis said, "but I still I have to work on that."
On Feb. 12, 2011, Lewis was attending a family barbecue in his hometown of Riverside, Calif. He was there to congratulate his sister on her pregnancy. He was standing in front of the house talking to his mom when he heard a car roll up behind him.
Before he had completely turned, he heard the gunshot and felt a sharp pain in his upper groin. As he lay in the ambulance, feeling calm but weak from the loss of blood, two thoughts crossed his mind.
"I thought football was over," Lewis said. "And I was thinking my family would be so disappointed in me, because I was the first one in my family to go to college."
Lewis has no idea who shot him. He probably never will, because the shooter was never caught. But throughout his rehab -- when he said he "basically had to learn to walk all over again because the muscle was so depleted" -- and even now, the memory of that moment has remained vivid.
"It just totally shocked me," he said. "You dont think that will ever happen to you, and it changes the way you look at things."
It certainly changed Lewis plans for 2011. The 5-foot-10, 188-pounder had a promising freshman season, rushing for 539 yards and catching 23 passes for 370 yards. In a three-game stretch against elite competition, he rushed nine times for 122 yards against Wisconsin, 11 times for 127 yards against Oregon and 20 times for 104 yards against Oregon State.
With so many expectations laid upon the Sun Devils in 2011, the emerging backfield combination of Lewis and Cameron Marshall was one of the biggest reasons for optimism.
Multiple times during the season, Lewis hinted that he was ready to return, but then-coach Dennis Erickson consistently put the kibosh on such plans, knowing Lewis was still progressing physically and nowhere near ready mentally.
"It was just me having a positive mindset," said Lewis, who ended up missing the entire season. "In my mind, I wanted to believe, but the coaching staff was saying, 'no.' They were looking out for me."
Lewis is back on the field now, with the Devils hitting the midpoint of spring practice. Physically, hes showing enough to occasionally stop coach Todd Graham in his tracks.
"You see a little flash and youre like 'Whoo! Wow! Thats what he really looks like,'" Graham said.
Graham wants more of that.
"I want to come out to a practice where he shows no signs of weakness, no signs of it bothering him," Graham said. "We're getting closer. Youre starting to see some burst out of him, starting to see some fluidness out of him where hes not thinking, hes not dragging that leg."
But when Lewis is running individual drills or stretching, running backs coach Larry Porter still catches him reaching for the leg.
"I tell him, 'Its still there! Its not going to fall off!'" Porter said. "But thats a very traumatic experience to go through. I'm trying to help him paint a picture and pursue the self that he used to be.
"In his mind, hes still trying to figure out what he can do. If he just trusted it, hed realize he can do it all, but thats something he has to grow into, and I have to just be there to support him and be sure we dont have any setbacks."
Lewis role heading into 2012 is less clear than it was last year. Marshall (ankle surgery) is expected to return by fall training camp, as is Kyle Middlebrooks, who had shoulder surgery this week. Both will need reps, but the Sun Devils also have top recruit D.J. Foster and highly touted juco transfer Marion Grice joining the backfield.
Even bruising redshirt senior James Morrison has caught the coaching staffs eyes this spring with his punishing and relentless running between the tackles.
"It gives us a lot of flexibility," Graham said. "I envision us using two backs most of the time -- whatever formation were in -- whether were one back or not."
Where Lewis fits into that mix will depend on the progression of his game and his mind.
"I went 12 years straight playing football, but my unlucky 13th year, something didnt go right and I had to overcome adversity," Lewis said. "My family members are pushing me to get back out there and do what I do best.
"Physically, it feels like its there. Its just mentally trusting that its all there. Thats something that Im getting better at every practice."