Patrick Lewis and his teammates heard all the naysayers.

The critics openly questioned how a Texas A&M football program that couldn’t win consistently in the Big 12 could suddenly expect to thrive in the West Division of the powerful Southeastern Conference.

Coming off a disappointing 7-6 season that ultimately cost former Packers coach Mike Sherman his job as head coach, the Aggies faced an uphill battle entering an SEC West Division that featured Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn.

Still, Lewis wasn’t worried.

Sure, the Aggies lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the NFL draft, but Texas A&M’s second-year starting center could see a fire igniting behind him in the 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman quarterback waiting in the wings, Johnny Manziel.

It was in Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense that Manziel transformed from an under-recruited FBS quarterback to Johnny Football, leading the Aggies to an 11-2 season in which they handed eventual national champion Alabama its only loss.

The Aggies destroyed Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl, finished the season ranked third in the nation in total offense and scoring while Manziel wound up winning the Heisman Trophy.

Lewis had a front row seat for all of it, starting all 13 games.

“He was really gifted as a young man, a guy his age as a freshman to do some of the things he did,” said Lewis, who signed with the Packers shortly after the draft as an undrafted free agent.