St. Joseph (N.J.) coach Paul Sacco walked into his locker room following a 2008 early season loss – any defeat is significant at this perennial powerhouse – and was shocked by the events that ensued.
It wasn’t a surprise to see one of his players chastising his teammates for their lack of effort, but it was a shocking to learn of the source. It was a promising freshman, linebacker and recent USC commitment Kaiwan Lewis, who had taken over as the team’s vocal leader.
“He came here to win championships,” said Sacco, who has become one of New Jersey’s most respected head coaches in his 31 seasons at St. Joseph. “He was very upset as a freshman. We lost in the third game, and we always bring the kids into the locker room to discuss what we wrong. He stood up in front of seniors. You don’t get that from freshmen.
“I think his leadership qualities are excellent. He’s a humble person, and he’s been a really hard worker. He gave up all the other sports so he could be in the weight room. I don’t think he’s missed one day of training in four years.”
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Lewis, who just turned 17, certainly looks the part of a highly trained, highly skilled athlete. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, he’s got the frame and athleticism to potentially step in and help the Gamecocks immediately in 2012.
Many analysts like his game, too. ESPN rates him as the nation’s eighth-best inside linebacker in the Class of 2011. Lewis had 79 tackles, six sacks and one interception last season, helping St. Joseph win its 10th state championship in the past 12 seasons.
Lewis plays mostly defensive end for St. Joseph. He’ll likely move to linebacker – either inside or outside depending on how much weight he gains – once he begins his college career. He may ultimately end up lining up with his hand on the ground, however.
“He’s got a great frame, and he’s starting to pack some muscle onto that,” NJvarsity.com publisher John Otterstedt said. “I think what makes him intriguing is that colleges can see him playing multiple positions at the next level. He’s great athleticism, so it’s that blank-pallet-type situation, where he can be whatever a college coach would like him to be.
“I think a lot of people see him bulking up and playing on the defensive line as an end. He’s a kid packed with potential. When we saw him, he wasn’t a four-star player on the field. He’s more of a four-star player in terms of potential. He’s a good football player right now, but his best football is definitely ahead of him.”
St. Joseph will utilize Lewis some at linebacker, but Sacco likes him along the defensive front, where he can become a tone setter and an intimidator. The coach says that Lewis is so physical coming off the ball that he’s considering playing him at nose tackle during the course of his career.
Lewis has family in South Carolina, a factor that loomed large in the recruiting process. Sacco also believed that the honesty of USC’s coaching staff helped reel him in.
“I think he’ll find his way,” Sacco said. “I always tell him that it won’t be like when he came here as a freshman. Then he was a big fish in a little pond. He’ll be a little fish in a big pond, but I think he’s ready for the challenge. I think he’ll find his way because of his work ethic and his background. His mother and father are strict disciplinarians. He’s got a great support system.”