Ann Arbor native Juwan Lewis among balanced recruiting class headed to Eastern Michigan
Juwan Lewis respects what Ron English has done in his brief time as head football coach at Eastern Michigan, chasing off scholarship athletes and building a program with his kind of players -- the hard-working, trouble-free, focused on academics kind.
After all, Lewis grew up on football sidelines watching his father do essentially the same thing.
The 5-foot-10, 208-pound running back from Muskegon High School signed his national letter of intent to play for the Eagles on Wednesday.
He’s a 3-star recruit and the No. 24 player in the state on Rivals’ postseason top 30 list after rushing for 1,466 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior.
The Eagles' highest-ranked player across the board at numerous recruiting sites, Lewis decided on EMU last week over his other finalists, Buffalo and Miami (Ohio).
Lewis was born at the University of Michigan hospital and was a toddler when his father, Tracy Lewis, was an assistant on Pioneer High School coach Tony Annese’s staff in 1995 and 1996.
Annese, now the head coach at Ferris State, left Pioneer for a job in Jenison. Three years later he landed in Muskegon, and called on Tracy Lewis.
Annese wanted the straight-shooting Lewis, who grew up with former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in a rough section of Atlanta, to help with the program’s discipline problems.
Three state championships later, Tracy Lewis still coaches multiple sports at Muskegon and is an administrative assistant focused on discipline at the high school.
His son, who moved from Ann Arbor to Muskegon in third grade, is the latest in a string of Division I scholarship players that includes Terrance Taylor (Michigan) and Ron Johnson (USC) -- two players that English recruited heavily while he was defensive coordinator at Michigan.
“Their coaching styles are very similar,” Juwan Lewis said of English and his father. “He got rid of the bad seeds, placed high expectations on the rest. Who wouldn’t want to be part of an up-and-coming program when it reaches its peaking point?”
English says his staff continues to focus on the entire "student-athlete" package on the recruiting trail.
"It’s really apparent and obvious that the people we bring in here -- in terms of how they look, how they act and what their grades are -- just improves every year," he said.
With his father in charge of discipline at Muskegon, Juwan Lewis became a three-sport standout and a member of the school’s National Honor Society and student leadership council. Head coach Shane Fairfield called him “just an amazing individual.”
But Tracy Lewis was not forcing all the decisions on his son.
“About the time he turned 13, I told him, ‘You’re in control,’” Tracy Lewis said. “You know what I expect and you’re in control.”
Asked to break down his son’s game as a coach, Tracy Lewis says: “Juwan’s strength is his first step. He’s quick-hitter, gets north and south really fast. He’ll punish defensive backs or run by them. He’s got good vision, sees and he goes. He’s not a guy who’s going to shake and bake behind the line of scrimmage, he’s going to get the ball and go.”
Lewis and fellow running back commit Darius Jackson of Sparta, Ill., join a stocked Eastern Michigan backfield that will return its three leading rushers in junior Javonti Greene (143 carries, 667 yards), senior Dominique White (132-596) and fifth-year senior Dominique Sherrer (94-572).
While Lewis said he was open to the idea of a redshirt season, he was told by the Eagles' coaching staff that they envision an immediate role for him.
And he’s not worried about a little competition, particularly with Greene -- who hosted Lewis on his official visit to the Ypsilanti campus.
“I really feel like we’ll be best friends when I get out there,” Lewis said.
English said Lewis fits the mold for running backs in the Eagles' play-action offensive package.
"We wanted a big back, a guy who can break tackles, and he’s a veer guy who runs in straight lines," he said. "But he’s also a track guy. He’s run 10.8 (seconds, in the 100-yard dash) at 5-10, 208 pounds."
Making roads in Michigan
Five of Eastern Michigan's 24-member recruiting class are from the state of Michigan, including three that were on the Detroit Free Press' list of the 50 top players in the state.
Joining Lewis (No. 30) from that list are linebacker Hunter Matt (No. 40) from Wyandotte and defensive back Amos Houston (No. 46) from Detroit Loyola.
"We’re doing better, but I would like it to be more, to be honest with you," English said of in-state recruiting.
Former Michigan and Indianapolis Colts running back Mike Hart, who was recently promoted to running backs coach, is now responsible for recruiting southeastern Michigan for the Eagles.
"With his reputation, I think we should get a boost," English said. "Plus, he’s going to work hard."
English said his coaching staff reported a much more positive response from the state's high school coaches.
"People really want to see you do well, and when you do well they’re happy for you," he said. "And they feel more comfortable sending their kids there, and that was really the reception that a lot of our coaches got in-state."
No QB in this class
English said he likes the balance of the 2012 class. After the Eagles went heavy after skill position players last year, this year's incoming freshmen will play 10 different positions.
Quarterback is not one of them.
With senior Alex Gillett returning and a pair of young backups in sophomore Tyler Benz and redshirt freshman Mark Iannotti, the Eagles decided not to add a quarterback to this year’s class.
“We’ll hold that spot and really recruit a guy next year,” English said. “We’ve got some guys we like.”
Junior college transfers
After bringing in six junior college players in the 2011 recruiting class, the Eagles signed four more at "positions of need" for 2012.
Travis Linser, a defensive tackle from Phoenix Community College, and Cy Maughmer, a defensive tackle from Glendale Community College, have already enrolled at Eastern Michigan and should contribute immediately on a defensive line that returns two starters.
"I think both those guys will help us a boatload," English said.
English has said previously that recruiting junior colleges can be a gamble, but it's one that often pays off. Particularly at certain positions.
"My experience at some of the schools I’ve been is we had just as much success, if not more success, recruiting junior college defensive linemen than high school defensive linemen," he said. "We had a chance to get some guys who were very high draft picks because everybody doesn’t take junior college players.
English, defensive coordinator Phil Snow and defensive line coach Ken Delgado have all been scouring the West Coast junior colleges for years, which English says helps find the right players from the right programs.
The Eagles lost their two starting safeties to graduation and found a potential replacement in Mycal Swaim from Butte College. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Swaim is also a basketball player at Butte College, which is located in Oroville, Calif.
The fourth junior college transfer in the class is Tim Brown, a linebacker who originally committed to play at Hawaii in 2009 before playing last season at San Jose City College.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Wide receiver Quincy Jones from Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward joins Lewis and linebacker Ike Spearman as the only EMU high school recruits given a 3-star rating from Rivals.
But English is happy with the entire wide receiver haul. Along with Jones (6-3, 195), the Eagles signed Dustin Creel (6-2, 205) from Industry, Pa., and Mitchell Dawkins (6-2, 205) from Winter Park, Fla.
"I thought we were better everywhere else, but I thought (wide receiver) was one of the positions we need to recruit better," English said. "These three guys are big kids, which we want for our play-action game, that can get down the field and catch the ball. We’re excited about those guys."
There are at least three Washtenaw County residents among the players that plan to walk on the Eagles' football program: Dexter quarterback Michael Mioduszewski, Saline placekicker Dylan Mulder and Saline tight end Derek Owings. (See complete local report.)
Rich Rezler is a sports producer at AnnArbor.com. Contact him at email@example.com or 734-623-2553.