The ‘why’ for Georgia’s Lewis Cine is his mother, daughter

ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs have this new thing they’re doing. It’s called “skull sessions.”

Periodically during the offseason, players would take turns going up in front of the team to share their “why.” The why is supposed to be for what they’re doing everything they’re doing, between daily workouts, college classes and learning to play football at a high level. In other words, what motivates them.

This was an easy exercise for Lewis Cine. Everybody pretty much knew it already. He has always told anyone who asked about his why, and maybe even some who didn’t.

However, Cine’s “why” has changed some in recent years. Forever, Cine has dedicated everything he did to his mother. Beatrice Seide gave birth to Cine in Haiti when she was only 16 years old. That’s why Cine wears the number 16 on his jersey, as homage to his mother. She currently lives in Chile and has never seen her son play football in person.

But not long before he came to Georgia, a new why came into Cine’s life. His baby girl, Bella, was born in Texas and is now 4 years old. She is being raised back home by Cine’s grandmother and cousin. She has seen Daddy play football once or twice.

So when you see Cine laying it on the line this season, know that he’s doing it for Beatrice and Bella.

“Those two people are my ‘why,’” Cine said during the Bulldogs’ preseason camp. “When things get hard, I push myself, because I know the things my mom has been through, the things she’s done for me and she never complains. She just keeps pushing through. And my daughter, I’m going to go through a brick wall for her.”

A brick wall, or an occasional All-America tight end.

Surely no Georgia fan has forgotten the hit Cine put on Florida’s Kyle Pitts last year in Jacksonville. It put both Pitts and Cine in concussion protocol and took Cine out of the game due to a targeting personal-foul call. Nevertheless, it is forever preserved in digital infamy and stands as a warning for receivers who might cross Cine’s path in the Georgia secondary.

Cine is kind of old school that way. He’s a flash to the storied past of the Bulldogs’ head-hunting safeties like Thomas Davis, Greg Blue and Ben Smith.

The rules have changed now, and Cine is adamant that he is never looking to injure anyone, least of all himself. But he prides himself on sideline-to-sideline patrol to do everything he can to part receivers from the football. That usually involves arriving very quickly without the intention or ability of slowing down.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, an old-school safety himself, gushes about the attributes Cine brings to the position.

“Lewis is a special talent,” Smart said this past Saturday. “He has extremely good speed, he has extremely good toughness, has good ball skills, good size, and he’s tough. When you design a safety, he’s got all the qualities. And he’s really been a student of the game.”

Mastering the ins and outs of the position and the complex concepts of Georgia’s defense is the area in which Cine has shown the most growth recently. Physically, he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but that is a highly-debated topic going back to his high school days when was listed as being 6-5 and 6-3 by various recruiting websites.

The truth is, it probably depended on what hairstyle Cine was wearing at the time. It changes often, from full-out afro as a high-schooler, to a tight spike as a UGA underclassman, to what it is now. That’d be long, dangling, dyed dreads that hide Cine’s eyes when not pulled back with a bandana underneath his Georgia helmet.

Cine’s interest in hair even extends beyond his own. In a recent Zoom interview with reporters, he prefaced an answer to a question with, “first, I like your new cut.”

“I like yours, too,” the reporter politely responded.

Such interactions illustrate that Cine is not your average, everyday Dog. As much as anybody who has come through Georgia, he is very much his own man.

That makes sense, given his background. It’s non-traditional, but very much an American story.

Born in Haiti, Cine moved to Florida when he was only 4 to be raised by extended family and set himself up for a better life. He remained there until middle school, when he moved to the Boston area to live with his father. It was there, in Everett, Mass., that Cine was introduced to football. He took to it like the warm Caribbean surf.

Cine excelled right away. By the time he was a junior, he was the defensive star of an Everett High School team that won the 2017 state championship. That victory saw Everett’s legendary coach, John DiBiaso, suddenly and unexpectedly retire.

About this, Cine was not happy. Shortly after the New Year, Cine moved to Texas to live with an uncle. There, in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, Cine enrolled at Trinity Christian School, a program as renown for scandal as it is for producing championships. Cine won one there, too. Deion Sanders was a coordinator at Trinity and has remained an person of influence in Cine’s life.

It was in Dallas that the Cine became a nationally known. He earned the distinction as 247Sports.com’s No. 3 safety in the country and got bowled over by dozens of Power 5 offers. Cine committed to Georgia and then-defensive-coordinator Mel Tucker after his official visit in October of 2018, signed with the Bulldogs that December and enrolled in January of 2019.

Cine has played in every Georgia game since, starting 12 of the 24 in which he’s played and making himself an indispensable member of the secondary last season. He averaged 5.2 tackles a game last year and has an interception and six pass breakups to his credit.

Now Cine is focused on taking the next step. For him, that is being a leader and captain.

“We’re trying to make this a player-led team and Lewis is an example of a guy that is owning that,” defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said. “… When you have a player-led team like that, guys that will be vocal and stand up and say, ‘hey, this is what matters and let’s get it done,’ I think you can accomplish a lot more.”

Cine said that part of the game has never come naturally to him. The rest of it has been like tying shoes.

And, now, Cine’s football smarts are starting to catch up with his athletic skills. For the Bulldogs, the progression has been beautiful to behold.

“He bounced around and, you know, he never really was in a scheme where he learned how to play the position,” Smart said. “He’s really grown at that. Now he’s playing three positions for us. He’s playing the free, the strong, the money position. So, he’s been able to do a lot of different things athletically. And he’s tough. He’s fast.”

Heading into the final two weeks of preparation for No. 3 Clemson, Cine is sharing the defensive backfield with fellow safety Christopher Smith, cornerbacks Derion Kendrick, Ameer Speed and Kelee Ringo and nickelback Latavious Brini. Most of those guys will come off the field in certain situations.

Cine will likely be on the field for every snap. And that’s just the way he likes it.

“My strengths are that I’m everywhere at all times,” Cine says excitedly. “I’m willing to do the hard things. A lot of guys aren’t willing to stick their nose in there and I’m willing to do that.”

Pitts, now a first-round pick set to start for the Atlanta Falcons, can attest to that. Cine plans to prove it to some wideouts on a pass-happy Clemson team next.

But while football is Cine’s means, it is not his end. For him, it’s about setting up himself for a life that provides more stability for his mother and his daughter than his life did for him.

In addition to zone-defense concepts, he has consulted his millionaire head coach about sound investment strategies.

“He’s spent a lot of time outside of football working on his career,” Smart said of Cine. “He’s been adamant to me about his career after football and making sure he’s good, making sure that he’s making good investments when he makes some good money. That’s more important to him than anything. And he’s done a lot of internships to kind of better himself.”

If this season goes the way Cine sees it, he’ll fulfill his dream of becoming an NFL player. Regardless, he plans to be a success.

The primary motivation for all of it is Cine’s mom and daughter. It’s their names he recites in his head when times get tough.

“Oh my gosh, team run,” Cine said. “Team run really tests us mentally; it tests me mentally. In my opinion, I think I’m very well-conditioned. But we get obstacles and challenges thrown our way a whole lot, and the best way for me to get through it is to think about them, adjust the best I can and push through and win.”