By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Sheldon Lewis remembers Feb. 6 like it was yesterday.
It was National Signing Day, and he headed to first period at Hanceville High in an uncharacteristically sour mood. Football players all around the country were signing their letters of intent, while Lewis, an All-State linebacker and bruising fullback, was left without a single offer.
At first, the senior was shocked. Then, he admittedly became a little bit angry. But now, three months later, Lewis is getting his chance, and he’s more determined than ever to make the most of it.
On Monday during an awards assembly at the high school, Lewis announced to his classmates he’s accepting a walk-on invite from the University of North Alabama, rejoining a pair of recent Bulldog graduates on the gridiron in Florence.
“I’m pumped, especially since I didn’t get the chance to sign a real scholarship,” the multi-sport superstar said. “I’m really excited that I have the opportunity to go up there and still play. When you sign a scholarship, they mostly look at you from what they’ve seen on game film. Now I actually have the chance to go up there and show them in person what I can do.”
Generally regarded as a fan favorite, the well-liked young man’s announcement was met with cheers from his peers, as well as tears from his grandmother, who was in the crowd to hear her grandson fill the room in on his plans for the future.
As soon as he was done speaking, a misty-eyed Lewis made a bee-line to where his grandma was seated.
“That was enough, just seeing her after I announced and getting to hug my grandma,” he said. “I know she’s proud of me. To see her happy made me happy.”
Lewis has already proven he’s a force to be reckoned with, dragging handfuls of defenders downfield and delivering bone-crushing hits on a nightly basis over the course of his prep football career. And now, fully equipped with a chip on his shoulder, he’s likely to be even more dangerous. Lewis is dead set on proving to the Lions, as well as all the coaches who didn’t feel he was worthy of an offer, that he’s fully capable of contributing to a college football team.
“Me personally, I look at it as a tryout,” said Lewis, who successfully defended his Class 3A state track and field titles in the discus and shot put this past weekend. “Even though I didn’t sign a scholarship, it’s a foot in the door for me to show the coaches what I can do and impress them with my abilities so I can go up there and play.”
Once Lewis makes the trek north to Florence in the fall, he’ll be reunited with former teammates Diamond Simmons and Braxton Pitts. Simmons is already making waves at running back after accepting a scholarship offer, while Pitts has impressed UNA coaches on the line after accepting a walk-on invite of his own.
“It’d be one thing just to be playing college football,” Lewis said. “But knowing that I have friends up there already that I’m really close to on the team, it’s just going to be fun for me. If it’s anything like it was in high school, I’m ready for it.”
As Lewis wraps up his last week at Hanceville High and prepares to trade in one Purple and Gold uniform for another, he’s just recently realized he’ll soon leave behind all the teammates, classmates and teachers he’s befriended throughout his life. It won’t be an easy process, but as Lewis said, “that’s what’s got to be done.”
“I’m going to miss it dearly,” he said of his hometown. “I love being out here, especially with all my brothers in all sports.”
With Simmons departing in 2012 and Lewis on his way out the door, Torrey Green will now be the Bulldogs’ go-to guy in the backfield. Lewis has full confidence in the junior running back to keep the Purple and Gold football program heading in the right direction.
“I’m proud of him for growing up from a little rowdy young player into a mature young man,” Lewis said of Green. “I have have no doubt he’s going to lead this team.”
Lewis said he plans to study exercise science and eventually become a sports or athletic trainer.
“I want to be around athletes and work around athletes, I just don’t want to be a coach,” he said with a laugh. “There’s so much stressful stuff that goes with coaching.”
Yes, Danny Miller’s job is pretty stressful, but having well-rounded student-athletes like Lewis has made his time at Hanceville run much smoother.
Frankly, the coach figured Lewis would have had five or six offers to choose from on signing day and quickly grew frustrated wondering when the two-way player would finally be presented with an opportunity he deserved. That took far longer than he expected, but all that matters to Miller now is that it did.
“We’re thrilled to death about him having the opportunity to go to UNA,” the coach said. “He’s what I’ve always thought a college prospect is — a kid who has lots of ability and still has that work ethic to go out there and compete. Not only is he going to play hard, but he’s going to make everybody around him better. That’s what good players and good leaders do.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.