Johnathan Lewis had offers from some big-time schools such as Iowa, Wake Forest and Temple, but when push came to shove, the St. Peter’s Prep quarterback really never wanted to stray far from home.
That’s why Lewis gave his verbal commitment to Rutgers last week, becoming the first blue-chip recruit to sign on since Chris Ash became the head coach in Piscataway last month.
“I really like Coach Ash,” Lewis said. “He made me feel at home. After I did my research with my parents, I found out that Rutgers was one of the top schools for academics. I was going to get a chance to compete right away as a freshman. They will run a spread offense and that’s what I want to do.”
Lewis said that he had a meeting with Ash a few days before making the commitment.
“He told me in the meeting that nothing was set, that I would have to go and compete for a starting job,” Lewis said. “I felt comfortable with that. I trusted him.”
With the decision now official, Lewis can concentrate on having a brilliant senior season in the fall for the Marauders. Lewis had a solid junior year in his first year as the starting quarterback, replacing Brandon Wimbush, currently at Notre Dame.
“It takes a huge burden off my shoulders,” Lewis said. “I especially am glad that it’s Rutgers.”
So apparently are avid Scarlet Knight fans, who have been regularly contacting Lewis via Twitter since he made the choice.
“I get tags from Rutgers fans every 15 minutes,” Lewis said. “I try to answer as many as I can. It’s really showed me how much I could mean to the program and how much people like me. I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on me. I love to compete. That’s when I usually do my best. There’s no pressure.”
But in reality, there is. He’s the first recruit that Ash pursued as the new head coach, replacing the beloved Kyle Flood, who had to survive a host of controversy before being fired at the end of the 2015 season. So Lewis will be looked upon to lead other recruits to Piscataway.
Prep head coach Rich Hansen was pleased with his quarterback’s decision.
“I think it’s a great fit for John,” Hansen said. “I sat down with Coach Ash and the offensive coordinator to talk about their plans. John’s skill set fits their system very well. He had some great options, but he now has a chance to be part of something special. It’s exciting. I’m more than satisfied.”
Hansen had a very good relationship with Flood, so working with the new head coach at the state university is imperative for both. To Hansen’s credit, he makes sure that his players take at least one of their allotted visits to Rutgers, to give the Scarlet Knight program a fighting chance.
It is a plan that worked with Lewis.
“This is what John wanted to do,” Hansen said of his quarterback. “I think it’s fortunate that he made his decision this early. The recruiting process is grueling and tough. Sometimes, it’s not pleasant. If you can get the chance to go some place you want and you’re comfortable with, then all the power to him.”
“I’m happy with the decision,” Lewis said. “It especially gives my friends and family the chance to come and see me play, especially my little brothers.”
Daniel Lewis is 6 years old. Kayden is 3. Chances are that the Lewis brothers are already donning Scarlet Knight jerseys.
“They’re all geared up,” Lewis laughed.
Lewis will now focus on the 2016 season, which begins in Ireland for the Marauders, as they will face a team from Georgia in Dublin in September.
“I’m already pumped for that game,” Lewis said. “I can’t wait. I have a calendar on my phone that is counting down the days.”
It was an especially great week for the Prep football program, as another top senior-to-be Ben Petrula announced his intentions to attend Boston College in 2017. Petrula is a standout two-way lineman.
“He took a visit there and loved it,” Hansen said of Petrula, who has spent his spring months throwing the shot put for the Marauder track and field team.
There was also good news regarding two famed Prep products who went on to play college football at Rutgers and now will get a chance to fulfill their dreams.
Savon Huggins, who went to Rutgers in 2011 as the top running back in the country, then ended his college career at Northern Iowa, has earned an invitation to attend training camp with the Green Bay Packers.
His high school and college teammate, Keith Lumpkin, has earned a trip to attend training camp with the Buffalo Bills. Lumpkin is an offensive tackle.
Huggins’ college career didn’t end up living up to the immense expectations, but will now get an opportunity to extend his football career in the NFL.
Lumpkin, all 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds of him, was thought to be a late round draft pick, but didn’t get selected and signed with the Bills.
“They’re both football lifers,” Hansen said. “They might have taken different roads to get there, but they’ve been through the grind and hopefully now will get the opportunity to play in the NFL. That’s all you can ask for.”
Hansen said that he was a little surprised that Lumpkin was not selected in the draft.
“But that should be a little bit of motivation for him,” Hansen said. “He does have the size. I think there’s a place for him in the NFL. He deserves this chance. So does Savon. Both have overcome a lot of adversity. They’re great kids who deserve this chance.”
And it led Hansen to admit one thing.
“It has been a pretty good week for us,” Hansen said.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.