Aaron Lewis started playing football as a seventh grader.
He was a wide receiver. By his own admission, he wasn’t very good.
“I was a backup, and I didn’t even know what that meant,” Lewis said. “I didn’t even realize that meant you weren’t going to play very much. I was pretty mad about it.”
The next season, Lewis moved to the defensive line. He also cracked the starting lineup.
Three years later, Lewis is the Inquirer’s defensive player of the year after a dominating season as a junior for Williamstown.
“He’s the best I’ve ever coached on the defensive side,” Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said. “He takes over games.”
Here’s the thing about Lewis: As good as he was this season, the rangy, relentless defensive lineman might be just beginning to realize his potential.
For starters, the 6-foot-6 Lewis said his doctor recently told him he wasn’t finished growing.
“I was like, ‘Really?’ ” Lewis said. “I don’t want to be a 7-foot defensive end.”
Plus, Fucetola and Williamstown defensive coordinator Mike Seidenberg said the 235-pound Lewis can easily add another 20 to 30 pounds without losing his flexibility and agility.
Rancocas Valley coach Dan Haussman, whose team lost twice to the South Jersey Group 5 champions, noted that Lewis will be back on the field for the Braves next season.
“He’s only a junior as scary as that is for next season," Haussman said.
Shawnee coach Tim Gushue called Lewis “a dominating defensive force.”
In helping Williamstown to a 12-1 record and the program’s second sectional title, Lewis made 102 tackles, an astounding total for a defensive lineman. He made a team-high 40 solo tackles and led the squad with 25 tackles for loss, 16 hurries and six sacks.
“He’s unblockable,” Seidenberg said. “And you can’t run away from him.”
Lewis was the catalyst of a Williamstown defense that held 11 opponents to a touchdown or less. In nine regular-season games, the Braves allowed a total of 49 points.
“I knew the whole offseason we were going to have a special year,” Lewis said. “We all had the same work ethic. We all had the same goal.”
Lewis’ ability to shed burly blockers at the point of attack, as well as to chase down speedy ballcarriers from behind, recalls the comment by former Holy Spirit coach Charlie Roman about former St. Joseph’s star Max Valles, the defensive player of the year in 2011: “You can’t run at him, and you can’t run away from him.”
Seidenberg raves about Lewis’ “motor,” but also about his willingness to accept and apply coaching.
“He just wants to get better and better,” Seidenberg said.
Lewis moves around the defensive line, sometimes lining up over the center, sometimes over the left tackle, sometimes over the right tackle. He attacks every play, often making tackles down the field after a completed pass or a run play to the opposite side.
“If I take a play off, I’m letting down my brothers,” Lewis said of his nonstop approach to the game. “I would never do that.”
Lewis has scholarship offers from Penn State, Pitt, Baylor, Temple, and Rutgers. He remembers hearing from college coaches for the first time this season.
“It was so surreal,” Lewis said. “When I got the call, I was shaking, I was so nervous. I didn’t think I could handle it.”
Things have happened with mind-bending speed for Lewis. He never even played organized sports before seventh grade, focusing his free time instead on video games and playing the guitar.
“I used to sing a little, too,” Lewis said.
In a little more than four years, Lewis has developed from a neophyte football player into one of the most disruptive, dominant defensive athletes in the state.
And his coach said Lewis is only going to get better.