Omarion Lewis posed an unusual problem for coach Jeff Craddock back in the fall of 2020. Lewis was a freshman defensive back just joining the powerhouse program at Tarboro (NC) High School who was actually too physical during the Vikings’ preseason camp.
“When he was a freshman, he was hitting people so hard he was giving himself concussions,” Craddock said. “We had to slow him down a little bit.”
Slowed, but not stymied, Lewis has used his physical style on defense and leadership abilities on offense at quarterback to spark Tarboro to 34 victories as a two-way starter the last three seasons, including seven straight this year. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder used that success and an impressive performance at East Carolina’s summer camp to earn a scholarship offer from the Pirates, which he accepted on June 25 to become part of the Recruiting Class of 2024.
Lewis picked ECU over other offers from N.C. Central, Old Dominion and The Citadel three days after making an official visit to Greenville on June 22.
The courtship of Lewis by the Pirates was short and sweet, according to Craddock.
“It’s funny. They really weren’t involved with him hardly at all,” Craddock said. “They knew who Omar was, but there wasn’t really a heavy recruitment going on. If I say he was on their radar, he might have been like a blip on their radar as somebody on their list of safeties. But I’d say pretty far down.
“But we were able to take some of our kids to three separate camps last summer, and East Carolina was one of those. I’ve known (ECU head) Coach (Mike) Houston for a while. Every day (during camp) he’s walking up and saying, ‘Coach, that Omar kid is looking good.’ I’d say, ‘Coach, he’s one of the best I’ve got.’
“They kept doing drills and you could see Coach Houston was paying attention. At one point in one-on-ones he came up and wanted Omar to go against some kid from Washington, DC, they were looking at. After the camp was over, Coach Houston came over and said, ‘Coach, I want to talk to you real quick before you guys leave.’ Here’s what I’m thinking. Maybe they are going to recruit Omar a little harder now. They say, listen, if you have a great season and keep your grades right, we’ll be recruiting you. But instead, he (Houston) told me they were going to offer him a scholarship on the spot.”
Lewis joins a lengthy list of Tarboro alumni who have earned major college football scholarships. The list includes, among others, Bill Hull (Wake Forest), Kelvin Bryant (North Carolina), Shaun Draughn (UNC), Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Lewis’s own brother, Tyquan (Ohio State), who is now a defensive end for the NFL Indianapolis Colts.
Tyquan Lewis helped Tarboro win three state 2-A football championships between 2009 and 2012. Although they play distinctly different positions, Craddock sees some important similarities between Omarion and Tyquan.
“They obviously come from the same family, and the family is just fantastic,” Craddock said. “Both are well mannered and very respectful kids, and they are going to do what is asked of them to the best of their ability. They are two completely different football players. But their mannerisms — their politeness, their work ethic, their will to succeed and their coachability are all the same.”
Omarion Lewis was the backup quarterback and safety as a freshman for a Tarboro varsity that went 9-0 and won the state 1-AA title. He became a two-way starter as a sophomore in 2021, leading the Vikings to a 14-1 record and the state 1-A championship. He completed 18 of 40 passes for 477 yards and nine touchdowns, while also rushing for 229 yards and eight more scores at quarterback that season. Lewis also contributed 11 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
Tarboro reached the state 1-A finals again in 2022 before falling to Mount Airy, with Lewis passing for 453 yards, rushing for 279 and accounting for 15 touchdowns at quarterback. But he had a breakout year on defense, making 63 tackles and five interceptions.
Through the first six games of 2023, Lewis completed 12 of 18 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns, rushed 10 times for 62 yards and two scores, and made 22 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
“Omar has had a great season so far,” Craddock said. “Obviously, offensively, he’s the leader of our offense. He’s thrown the ball a little more this year and is making great decisions back there, which is what we expect of a three-year starter.
“Defensively, he’s having a fantastic year. We’ve played him at safety, we’ve played him at corner. It just depends on what matchups we have that week as to where we put him.”
Lewis began the year in spectacular fashion by making two interceptions in a 42-0 drubbing of neighboring Rocky Mount in the season opener on August 18.
“He had a great game right out of the gate,” Craddock said. “One of his picks came at the end of the first half and they were driving. I think we were up at that time, 28-0, but there was still a lot of football to play. They tried to throw, and he was at safety. He just sprinted over the top to get to the football. Actually, the ball was tipped, and he happened to be sprinting over there and he got the tip.
“His momentum was completely taking him out of bounds. But he got both feet in before he got out of bounds to give us a big interception right before the half.”
The Pirates have recruited Lewis to play safety. He’s expected to graduate from Tarboro in December, hopefully after leading the Vikings to another state crown. He’ll then enroll at ECU in January and compete with the Pirates in spring practice.