One of the surprises emerging from the early signing period in December for East Carolina involved the labeling of local product Jeremy Lewis as a tight end.
Sure, Lewis had been a prominent pass catcher at South Central High School just a few miles from the ECU campus in Winterville. But the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder had been recruited primarily as a defensive end by the previous ECU coaching staff, to whom he had made a verbal commitment last June. Many other schools such as Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wake Forest, which also extended scholarship offers, liked him as a defender as well. And it was on defense where Lewis had contributed at South Central since his freshman season, finishing his career with an impressive 214 total tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback sacks.
Defense even runs in Lewis’ family. Older brother Kiante Anderson appeared in 20 games for East Carolina as a defensive end between 2016 and 2017, making 55 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.
But when Mike Houston arrived from James Madison in December to take over as head coach at East Carolina, the course of Lewis’s college career changed. The move of Lewis to tight end was unexpected by many who had followed his recruitment, but not to South Central coach Andy Tew.
“I really wasn’t surprised,” Tew said last week. “He had offers on the offensive side of the ball. It just depended on what (kind) of offensive scheme they ran as to where people projected him. I think in the system they’re implementing at East Carolina (it) allows him to play on offense.”
Tew should know since he helped develop those offensive skills as early as Lewis’s freshman year at South Central. But it wasn’t Lewis’ athletic skill that first caught Tew’s attention. Upon first meeting Lewis as an eighth grader, Tew was immediately impressed by his personality.
“I go to the middle school each year to meet the eighth graders who’ll be coming into our program the next year,” Tew said. “He stood out immediately because of his personality. He was a leader among that group. He came up to me and said, ‘Coach, we’re going to make big things happen at South Central.’ That sticks out in your mind when you hear that from an eighth grader.”
Lewis would start his freshman season on the South Central junior varsity squad. But Tew promoted him to the varsity for the final seven games of the year to utilize him as a blocker at H-back on offense and end on defense. Lewis logged one carry for five yards on offense, but produced 30 tackles, two tackles for loss and three sacks on defense.
Becoming a two-way starter as a sophomore, Lewis contributed 34 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks on defense, while making 30 receptions for 659 yards and eight touchdowns on offense in helping South Central improve from 2-9 to 5-6.
College recruiters began to take notice after a junior campaign during which Lewis piled up 55 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four sacks on defense, and upped his receiving totals to 42 catches, 610 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“When his junior film got out is when it really exploded for him,” Tew said. “Watching that film you could tell he was already dissecting plays before they came at him (on defense). He’s a very analytical-minded person, and that includes football. If we were developing a scheme to stop a team, he could not only understand it, but he could explain it to other teammates who had questions.”
Lewis would spark the Falcons to the Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference title and an 11-1 overall finish as a senior. He set career-high marks of 95 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and four sacks on defense, and led South Central in receiving with 36 catches for 802 yards and 11 scores.
When Lewis signed a national letter of intent with the Pirates in December, he became the latest in a line of former South Central players to become part of the ECU program. In addition to Lewis’s brother, the Falcons have produced future Pirate recruits such as current defensive end Kendall Futrell, former linebacker Montese Overton and ex-running back Shawn Furlow among others.
“He’s kind of a combo of those athletes,” Tew said about Lewis. “Because we’ve had some pretty talented receivers come through here he gets compared to them. But people also ask how he stacks up with Kendall Futrell. I know know if his linear speed is as fast as Kendall. But athletically Jeremy can play a lot of positions and he can catch the football.
“Montese Overton was very competitive for us and Jeremy reminds me of him because he wants to be in on every play and make things happen. But his football IQ doesn’t compare to anyone else.”
Lewis hopes to put that football IQ and his physical talents to good use blocking and catching footballs from D.H. Conley product and former prep rival Holton Ahlers at ECU.
“He’ll (Ahlers) have C.J. Johnson (from D.H. Conley) and Jeremy in there with him,” Tew said. “It’s good to see those local guys like those two and (Keziah) Everett from Farmville staying home to compete. I think Holton might have had a lot to do with that.”