Lewis had 108 solo tackles, 128 assists and 34 tackles for loss as a senior, but it was his actions beyond his play which got former Pioneers coach Jeremy Bosken emotional during Lewis’ signing ceremony Wednesday at the David Crockett library.
“Every camp we would go to, we would be the last team to leave,” Bosken recalled. “It’s because Austin would be over there thanking and shaking the hand of every coach who was there. Liberty has no idea who they are getting; they have no clue. In today’s sports age, his actions go a long ways. He has made a lasting impression on my family.”
Bosken, who drove three hours from Chattanooga for the signing, told how Lewis loved football and how he went from a scout-team player his freshman year with one solo tackle to an All-Conference player the next season. By the time his high school career was over, Lewis became a three-time All-Conference and one-time All-State selection.
Lewis, listed as a three-star recruit as a 6-foot-6, 235-pound defensive end, is now excited to take his talents to the next level. He had 15 NCAA Division I offers and narrowed his choices to Kansas State, Colorado State and Liberty before deciding on the Flames.
“I just wanted stay close to home and still play big-time football,” Lewis said. “They gave me an awesome opportunity to do some work as a freshman. So, that was the final decision.”
Brandon Qualls, who served as Crockett’s offensive coordinator and then as head coach for one game this season, said Lewis’ unselfishness sets hi apart. Knowing his team needed him on the offensive side of the ball his senior year, Lewis agreed to be a two-way player, lining up at left tackle to help protect quarterback Cade Larkins.
Long and athletic, Lewis said the coaches at Liberty envision him as a pass rusher at defensive end. It was a role once played by former Elizabethton High School and Liberty alum Vince Redd, who went on to play in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. Coincidentally, Redd attended Lewis’ signing on Wednesday.
“They want me to do a lot of pass rushing my first year and then get me into run scheming more after that,” Lewis said. “They want me as a nine-technique outside the tight end. They’ve also joked a little about me getting some tight end dumps in the red zone. But, the focus right now is getting me faster.”
Liberty is coached by legendary Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill, whom Lewis admitted he didn’t know much about at first. It wasn’t until he saw others star-struck that he found out Gill was the quarterback who led the Cornhuskers to an undefeated season in 1983 before being upset 31-30 by Miami in the Orange Bowl.
“I met Coach Gill at a camp in South Carolina,” Lewis said. “Somebody was like, ‘That’s Turner Gill.’ I went and looked him up and realized he was a legend as a college quarterback. More than football, he’s a great man, a good family man and he’s another reason I chose Liberty.”
Another reason was the Flames’ planned stadium expansion and ambitious schedules which includes Army, Virginia and Auburn next season. Syracuse is scheduled for the 2019 home opener when the stadium expansion is finished, and the Flames play at Virginia Tech in 2020.
“When I got my first D1 offer as a sophomore, I was bouncing off the walls,” he said. “Then I got more and got used to it. But now that this is sunk in, I feel fortunate. A chance to go to Liberty, they have first-class facilities and by the time I’m a sophomore, the stadium will seat 48,000 people and will be playing FBS football.”