By Bo Carter, NFF Correspondent, The Texas Sports Daily, Sports Page Dallas, NCBWA

FORT WORTH, Texas – Marjorie Herrera Lewis, believed to be the only woman assistant football coach on any level in college football in 2017, definitely has earned her stripes.

From fighting through a broken finger on her first day of spring practice to having cataract surgery just days before the start of the season to helping restart a football program at NAIA Texas Wesleyan University after a 76-year hiatus, her 2017 football coaching experience has been anything but boring.

Added to the coaching staff by head coach Joe Prud’Homme in December 2016, the longtime sports journalist, Dallas Cowboys and college football beat writer, football observer, and gridiron expert was helping set up the ball machine the first day of spring drills when the ball took a wayward bounce. Lewis was standing at the 50-yard line facing the ball machine placed along the east sideline when the ball flew over another coach's head and bounced to her right. She reached out to tip it toward her, but ball took a bad bounce, and when she made contact, snapped the tip of her right index finger.

Rather than rushing to a nearby member of the athletics training staff, the historic Wesleyan assistant decided to “tough it out” and went through the entire workout, including tossing balls to DBs during several segments of the afternoon, then drove herself to an emergency room to have the broken finger repaired and splinted.

“I think that day gave me instant credibility with the players the next day when they discovered I'd thrown practice the day before with a broken finger,” she quipped. “I didn’t want anybody to know about it at the time or to draw attention to myself that day, but I had to fess up when I showed up with a finger splint."

Things were much better for the newfound assistant until the spring practice ending intrasquad game. Lewis was in position on the headsets at the Farrington Field coaches’ booth when she noticed something.

“I could not read the numbers on the uniforms from that distance,” she said, “and I decided it might be time to go in for an eye exam the next week after spring training ended. The diagnosis was cataracts.”

In making plans for the intriguing return of Wesleyan Rams football in ’17, Lewis had to schedule one eye for surgery in early August and the second eye surgery just before the Rams opened the season Sept. 2 at MacPherson (Kan.).

“I really wanted to be at full speed for the home opener against Millsaps Sept. 9." she said. While the team was in Kansas, Lewis was on assignment scouting a future opponent.

She made a full recovery and was there to help Prud’Homme and the on-field staff with adjustments in-game and at halftime throughout the season, and her work has been invaluable. She has enjoyed working directly with defensive backfield coach Quincy Butler, the former TCU standout who also had playing stints in the NFL, Canadian Football League and Arena League.

"He's a terrific coach," Lewis said of Butler.

She also acknowledges that 2017 progress has been made in small steps, but the Wesleyan crew has been competitive against a rugged slate of Central States Football League opponents and nationally competitive non-conference foes.

“It has been a learning process throughout,” Lewis stated, “but when you see young people set goals and see them working hard toward achieving those goals every day, it is worth all the time it takes to commit to a team."

Even at smaller schools, Lewis notes that time and academic commitments are major challenges for football student-athletes.

“Academically there are many time and class challenges,” she related, “and I have been able to assist the team with study halls and other responsibilities.”

And somehow she finds time to complete work as author of her new Morrow/HarperCollins novel “When the Men Were Gone” based on a true story of Tylene Wilson, who coached football in Brownwood, Texas, during World War II.

Add in teaching media ethics and digital and new media writing courses in the Media Arts Department at the University of North Texas and being the mother of two grown children, and one wonders where Marjorie Herrera Lewis finds the time and energy to accomplish all her personal goals.

“This can be challenging at times for a 60-year-old,” she said with a smile, not bashful about stating her age. “But I love it."

She also has endowed the popular Marjorie Herrera Lewis Speakers Series at Wesleyan since 2015 with featured speakers such as Daryl “Moose” Johnston of the Dallas Cowboys and popular author David Thomas, among others.

One major aspect of her football persona also is that she doesn’t ask for or demand special attention because of her unique status. She thinks of herself as just one person and a key cog on a new and eager coaching staff.

“Every game we are seeing improvement,” she noted, “and the players continue to work hard through a lot of disappointment and adversity.”

Some recent signs of progress have been a narrow loss to Lyon (Ark.) 21-14 on the road and some very competitive second halves when Wesleyan has outscored and outgained opposing teams.

And one especially satisfying honor came on Oct. 30 when one of her defensive backs – Parrish Dixon-Smith – was named Central States Football League Defensive Player of the Week for his showing against Wayland Baptist. The youngster from Mobile, Ala., had two interceptions and a 36-yard pilfer return for a touchdown – the first pick six in modern Wesleyan football history.

“Parrish is a great story,” noted Lewis. “One day he had a bad practice, and by the time I got home, I had note in my inbox from him saying, ‘I promise I won't let you down.’ That made the Player of the Week award that much more special.”

Yes, Marjorie Herrera Lewis faces challenges daily that no women in college football on support staffs or training and equipment areas would imagine possible.

And she simply keeps that victorious attitude and “we can do it” mentality on a daily basis.

Something tells even the casual observer that this Texas Wesleyan assistant and her team are going places and will be adding up the wins in coming seasons. Her approach and dedication have been contagious for an up-and-coming program.”