October 8, 2012 9:42:17 PM
CARROLLTON, Ala. -- The expectations didn't bother Josh Lewis.
The junior quarterback knew he had a fullback -- Garrett Estes -- and a tailback -- Joel Pratt -- in the backfield with him, so he was ready to take on any and all comers.
The change in offense didn't faze Lewis, either.
Coach John Gartman's decision to switch from a triple-option scheme to a double-option attack and provide another blocker has allowed the Pickens Academy football team to gain momentum from week to week.
As the leader of that offense, Lewis has been one of the most consistent performers. On Friday, Lewis rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns to help Pickens Academy beat Marengo Academy 28-16. The victory enabled the Pirates (7-0) to secure the Alabama Independent School Association's Region 2 championship.
For his accomplishments, Lewis is The Dispatch's co-Prep Player of the Week. He is sharing this week's award with Pickens County sophomore running back Jermarcus Brown.
"The offensive line blocked really good and we have a bunch of good running backs that are hard to stop," Lewis said. "If the defense tries to stop one of us, they can't stop the other one. I have all of the confidence in the world in them, and I pretty sure they feel the same about me."
Lewis' performance Friday wasn't even close to his best of the season. Last month, Lewis rushed for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 39-14 victory against Southern.
Last week, Lewis rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-33 victory against Jackson Academy. He also threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Sam Beachler.
Lewis' exploits have earned him player of the week honors from the Alabama Sports Writers Association and from The Tuscaloosa News. Gartman said Lewis' ability to lead the offense and to work with Estes and Pratt has been expected.
Lewis said he set rushing for 2,000 yards as a goal at the beginning of the season. With three games remaining, including a matchup at 7 p.m. Friday at Meadowview, that he might not get there, in part due to the fact the Pirates have been comfortably ahead in many of their games this season. As a result, Gartman has gone to his bench to give younger players time in the varsity game.
Lewis doesn't mind, though, because he and his teammates take pride in what they have done to transform the program's fortunes. In the preseason, Gartman and the players felt a move from Class AA to Class A would put Pickens Academy on more equal footing. Lewis has proven to be a valuable weapon that has been pretty tough to stop.
"He has played real well and his stats are a lot better, but I don't know if his role is really any bigger than what it was last year," Gartman said. "We have three good backs we can depend on and who can all make plays for us, and he is the main one. I think everybody has stayed pretty grounded, him included."
Lewis said the Pirates pitched the ball more in the running game last season. This year, he said he is holding the football more and taking advantage of the improved play by the offensive line. With a player who ordinarily would be a pitch man in the triple option, that player becomes a blocker for Lewis when he gets to the perimeter for a two-on-one matchup with a defender. The offense's ability to come together has left the memory of a 3-7 season in 2011 in the distance.
Lewis, who also plays safety, feels he has helped that development by staying focused and by encouraging his teammates. He said he has tried to be a leader by setting the example on the field.
Gartman said Lewis has been a vocal and a quiet leader in his second year as starter. It's a role he feels Lewis has adjusted to as he has developed even more confidence in what he can do and what the offensive line can do.
"If it wasn't for the line I probably wouldn't have half as many yards," said Lewis, who has rushed for between 1,100-1,200 yards and is averaging well over 10 yards per carry.
Gartman admits his team's probably runs the ball more than 90 percent of the time, but that doesn't mean Lewis can't throw the football. He said the 20-yard scoring pass Lewis threw to Beachler was a key play that helped the Pirates pull away. But the majority of Lewis' work has come on the ground, and with few teams being able to slow him down, Lewis has stayed busy. He hopes to have a full plate deep into the postseason.
"It doesn't surprise me (how well the team has played and how well the offense has run the ball)," Lewis said. "The offensive line has been working hard and been opening the holes for us."
Said Gartman, "I think they all fit together pretty well. We have three good backs. What they're doing together they have been doing for a while. We have a line that works well for what we do. We don't really have a 'road raider' who is 280 pounds, but we have a lot of guys with some quickness and we pull a lott. It all fits together pretty well."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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