When you think of Terre Haute North’s Austin Lewis, it’s only natural to think “defense.”
The Patriot senior stepped into his high school football team’s starting lineup at free safety as a sophomore; he’s made a verbal commitment to attend Western Michigan, where the Broncos are thinking about turning him into a linebacker (or at least a linebacker/safety hybrid); and even in basketball, defense is his calling card, evidence being his shutdown performance of the state’s leading scorer Kellen Dunham last winter when the Patriots upset second-ranked Pendleton Heights in regional play.
So, if you haven’t paid close attention to North’s first three football games this fall, you might be surprised to learn that one of the key offensive performers in the Patriots’ 2-1 start is — Austin Lewis.
“It’s where coach [Chris Barrett] needs me the most,” said Lewis, who is not even listed as a defensive starter, earlier this week. “He told me at the beginning of the year [offense] was where he needed me most … where I’d be best on the field.”
Lining up as North’s Z receiver — a slotback/flanker position — Lewis can catch the ball (he’s first on his team in receiving yards, second in number of catches), go in motion and occasionally take a handoff (averaging nearly eight yards per carry) or lead outside running plays with crack-back blocks.
“That’s my favorite,” the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lewis said with a grin when the crack-back blocks were mentioned.
Lewis’s offensive statistics would be even more impressive but for a pair of penalty flags in the North-South game two weeks ago. Infractions that night wiped out a long touchdown he scored on a short pass and another touchdown on a punt return; both times he weaved his way down the field and eluded defenders like any other gifted offensive threat.
“He can do a lot of things,” Barrett said this week, “and we’ve got him doing a lot of things.”
A hand injury that knocked junior Austin Massey out of a job as holder for field goals and extra points gave Lewis a chance to do that job, he returns punts and kickoffs, and just because he isn’t a starter doesn’t mean he can’t get on the field defensively too — at his old spot, at strong safety or even at strongside linebacker.
And it’s not just because Lewis would drive his coach crazy if he were standing next to him on the sideline, Barrett added.
“He’s a very personable kid,” the coach said with a smile, “and that hyperness leads to him being a good football player.”
On a more serious note, Barrett also said, “He’s worked so hard on conditioning that he’s able to do all those things. He doesn’t want to come off the field, and he wants the ball in his hands … we’ll continue to ask a lot of him.”
“My body feels great,” Lewis said. “I’ve got more flexibility because of the work I did in the offseason, so I can stay healthier this year.”
The North senior always seems to be having fun, but this season has been more fun than most — and with the promise of more fun to come, Lewis indicated.
“This year our chemistry is a lot better,” he said. “The seniors have shown a lot of leadership, and we had a great offseason.
“Our first two games [a loss at Castle, a win over South] we played great second halves, and against Northview [last Friday] we had a full game. That’s what we’ll try to do against Center Grove [in a 7 p.m. Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference home game today].”
With one conference win under their belts, the Patriots are looking forward to the rest of the MIC season.
“People [in the conference] know we’re going to go out and play hard,” Lewis said. “Hopefully this year we’ll go out and shock some people.”