Sean Lewis started playing football at Richards High School during his freshman year. He admits now that he wasn’t very good, not to start.
Luckily for him, Jeff Kortz, then his coach, took a special interest in seeing Lewis succeed. He not only played for the Bulldogs from 2000-2003. He excelled.
“Whenever I needed anyone to train with, I knew I could count on him," Lewis said. "He definitely had a big influence on physically preparing me to play."
In his sophomore year, Lewis moved to varsity where he split time as Richards' starting quarterback. The Bulldogs finished second in the Class 4A state playoffs in 2001, losing to powerhouse Providence.
“I didn’t play in the state game, which motivated me to play better my junior year,” Lewis said.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Lewis threw for 27 touchdowns and rushed for 15 more. He limited his interception count to three. And he says the performance earned him scholarship that season. The Bullddogs advanced to the IHSA state quarterfinals.
“Junior year was definitely my glory year," he said. "Playing with that group of guys was the best. Winning was a lot of fun, too."
Lewis credits Richards' offensive coordinator coach, Steve Fleming, for making that a banner year.
“Before our season started, he met with Purdue’s coaching staff," Lewis said. "He learned new concepts that completely changed our offense to better suit what I could do as a quarterback. He went away from what he traditionally had done to teach us a new system. I really admire him for that.”
However, Lewis looked up to Fleming for more than his ability to implement change on the field. It was his ability to connect with is players off the field that really set him apart.
“He knew there was always more to a player’s life than what was going on in the game," Lewis said. "After a bad practice, he would always ask me if there was a reason I wasn’t playing well. He saw the bigger picture. It’s a unique trait that I respect him for."
During Lewis’s last year playing at Richards, his team made it to the second round of the IHSA playoffs.
“Senior year didn’t live up to my expectations," he said. "I thought it would be our best season, but we had so many injuries. We were forced to change what we were doing offensively.”
In fact, inexperience in certain positions led to the Bulldogs dropping two straight football games, a first at Richards.
“That’s not something you want your team to be known for,” Lewis said.
Looking back on it, he realizes that his expectations going into the season were a bit unrealistic. “Once I looked at the cards we were dealt, I am pretty proud of the way we responded," Lewis said. "We stuck it out and gave it our best.”
An Unexpected Bonding Experience
After his junior season, Lewis started getting scholarship offers.
“My dad (Michael Lewis) decided to take the reins on my recruiting process and planned a couple cross country trips to see the schools I was interested in," Lewis said.
He smiles as he recalls one of those trips to Tennessee.
“My dad and I talked a lot in the car," Lewis said. "We asked each other questions and traded stories that probably never would have been shared in any other setting. We have a great relationship to this day, and I believe it’s owed to that car ride.”
Over the next few months, the two visited Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin.
"The road trips were great, and I still have so many fond memories of our time together," Michael Lewis said. "We would get in the car and start driving, neither one of us knowing what the conversation would be about. After visiting a college, we would weigh the pros and cons of that school vs. another.
"On one of our trips, we drove to the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), then continued on to Baton Rouge to see LSU's campus. We also stopped over in New Orleans, which is Sean's birthplace. The trip was over 2,300 miles in duration and took 10 days. When I returned to work, I was asked what I would have done differently. I replied, 'A longer trip.' "
"My dad stressed to remove football from the equation and find a place that would help me grow as a student," Lewis said.
In the end, he chose Wisconsin, feeling that it had the most to offer.
From Top Dog to Young Pup
Once Lewis arrived on campus at Wisconsin, he quickly realized he wasn’t physically prepared to play at the college level. “I realized that I was a 17-year-old nobody competing against guys five years older than me,” he said.
Although he sat out his freshman year, Lewis was fortunate enough to be placed on the travel squad. “I didn’t have any pressure to play, so I was really able to watch and learn on the sidelines," he said.
Lewis eventually was converted to a tight end. His mentor, Owen Daniels, greatly improved his game, getting him to a level where he could contribute. Finally, during his junior year with the Badgers, Lewis became the short yardage and goal-line tight end, meaning he never started a game or was put in a reguarl rotation, but he did get in for anywhere from 15 to 20 snaps.
Satisfied with his position, Lewis continued to play on special teams for the rest of his time at Wisconsin.
“My college experience didn’t amount to the great expectations I had coming out," he said. "But looking back on it, I don’t have any regrets about going to Wisconsin. Everything worked out for a reason, and I made peace with it."
COMING THURSDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Thursday to find out what former Richards standout Sean Lewis is doing nowadays.