September 12, 2013 10:27:07 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
CARROLLTON, Ala. -- The jack-of-all-trades moniker fails to capture everything Josh Lewis does on the football field.
Maybe it's because Pickens Academy coach Josh Thacker hasn't used Lewis in every position on the football field this season.
But Thacker has seen funny things happen at some of his previous coaching stops, so he doesn't plan on having Lewis try his foot at kicking for the Pirates. When you have seen a kicker tear an anterior cruciate ligament, you begin to wonder if it is worth it to have a player like Lewis, who does so much and plays so many positions, out there for one more snap?
If Lewis had his choice, he wouldn't come off the field. That's why Thacker, who is in his first year as head coach at the school, raves about what Lewis means to the team.
"I have been a round a lot of good football players. I have never had one work as hard as Josh does," Thacker said. "I have had coaches call me and that is the first thing I say, 'Coach, you can't go wrong with your football team because this young man is going to help your football team in every way possible.
"From day one, it has been all or nothing. He demands that from everyone. Normally coaches have to come in and give the 'This is your senior year' speech. We didn't have to do that. He drives everybody. We're super proud of that."
Lewis will return to a full slate of action at 7 p.m. Friday when he and Pickens Academy (2-0) play host to Southern Academy. Through two games, Lewis is 17 of 27 for 332 yards. Last week, he rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another against Sumter Academy. He was 7 of 12 for 140 yards and had 10 carries for 116 yards. He scored on runs of 43 and 26 yards and on a 1-yard run. He also led the team with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble.
"That is what I hoped for myself," Lewis said. "I don't really look at my stats. (My main focus is) that we are doing well as a team."
When Thacker was an assistant coach at Leroy High School, he said kicker Phillip Ervin tore his ACL attempting a kick. He said the loss of Ervin dealt a devastating blow to Leroy's state championship hopes. Ervin recovered from the injury and became a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds. Ervin was undrafted out of Leroy High and went to Samford University. He spent time in Billings (Mont.) and Dayton (Ohio) in the Rookie League and in low Class A ball earlier this year.
Thacker joked he was going to have Lewis clean the bus and tidy up around the football locker room to make up for work he is missing at kicker. Whether it is cleaning, lining the band field, or overseeing work habits in practice, Thacker said Lewis sets the tone.
"He is the one who gets us motivated, when heads are down he picks them up, when somebody needs to be leveled out he assumes that role, too," Thacker said. "He takes a big burden off us as coaches. When it comes time to find the drive to finish a rep or a drill, Josh is always walking around saying, 'Let's go. Let's get this done.' He is out front in every sprint. He is one of the strongest guys in the weight room."
Thacker said neither he nor any of his assistant coaches had to ask Lewis to assume a bigger role because he is a "natural born leader." He credits Josh's parents for instilling in him the values he used to push his teammates to be their best.
Lewis, who is from Aliceville, said he isn't doing anything out of the ordinary. Living on a farm, Lewis said he is used to having a lot of work to do, so he is used to having a full plate on the football field. He played a key role on the team the past few seasons under former coach John Gartman, so he also is accustomed to being someone who is counted on to produce.
"I live on a farm, so every day, all day what we do is work," Lewis said.
The difference this year is Lewis and the Pirates have moved from the veer to a spread attack that includes a healthy does of passing. That hasn't fazed Lewis, either.
Thacker said Lewis controls things in the huddle and commands respect because he reads defenses and knows where all of his teammates should be on every play. In five months in the system, Thacker said Lewis has immersed himself in everything the Pirates are doing on both sides of the football.
"We ask a lot from our quarterbacks," Thacker said. "You have to identify coverages, you have to identify blitzes, you have to know your drop, you have a specific drop on a route to time it up right. Josh deals with so many receivers who run different speeds and have different cutting angles. He is just so familiar with everyone of his receivers."
Thacker anticipates throwing the football even more as the season progresses because the Pirates didn't need to throw the ball very much in the second half of the first two games. He credits his defense for playing extremely well in the region victories. As they move on, Thacker believes the Pirates will become even more polished with their route running, which will give Lewis even more options to have when he throws.
"It takes a different mind-set to throw the football around," Thacker said. "You have to have a level head, you have to be calm, you have to know what we are looking for."
Thacker knows if Lewis was playing at Daphne or Hoover, two of the state of Alabama's highest-profile prep football programs, he would be on someone's watch list. He believes plenty of coaches will miss out on Lewis if they don't give him a chances. After all, Thacker doesn't know of many players who can make a 45-yard punt and go down the field and make the tackle, or run the best route and make a catch, or play guard on the offensive line and run a zone scheme.
"It amazes me the things he can do," Thacker said. "If coaches were to come down here to watch us practice, watch us lift weights, watch our game film, they would fall in love with him, just like we have. It is easy to see, and it is all because of his work ethic."
Lewis said it all is in a day's work. He admits he thought it would be a little difficult transitioning from an offense that tries to ram the football down an opponent's throat as opposed to one that spreads teams out and zips the ball all over the field. Nearly five months into it, Lewis feels good about how he has adjusted and how he has helped his teammates build on the momentum from last season's runner-up finish in the Alabama Independent School Association Class A playoffs.
Lewis feels he is more of a leader this year in part because he sensed he had to do more this year. Part of his job as a leader is making sure players are working as hard as they can, so don't be surprised to see Lewis getting on teammates if they finish a repetition at less than full speed. His goal is to make them go all out the whole time.
Lewis said his goal is to play football at the next level. With that kind of mind-set and work ethic, Thacker said it is just a matter of getting Lewis noticed. It won't be hard every Friday night because you name it and Lewis probably will be doing it.
"I don't know if anybody can work any harder than Josh," Thacker said. "It is not just on the football field. It is everywhere.
"He is punting, he is playing quarterback, he is playing free safety. He is our team leader, he is leading us in rushing yards, in passing yards. If we need him to play line, he could play line. He does a little bit everything. It is whatever we need him to do."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.