EAST ORANGE, NJ – It’s a marvel when any parent prepares their child for college, especially when you are the parent of one of the best quarterbacks in the state of New Jersey and arguably in the country. The achievements of Johnathan Lewis are nothing but amazing. He is currently the No. 15 elite quarterback in the nation ranked by ESPN’s Elite 11 Quarterback competition and has verbally committed to Rutgers University as a dual- threat quarterback.
But to understand Johnathan’s success is to know where he came from.
“I started playing football when my uncle took my cousin and I out to the park to give us something to do and teach us about being a team and working together,” said Johnathan in a recent interview. “I really wanted to just learn and play before I knew it I fell in love with the sport.”
And that is just what he did. He first started playing football for the East Orange Panthers as a wide receiver and kicker on their Junior Pee Wee team before trying out for quarterback the following season.
Johnathan wasn’t alone on this journey. Every step of the way he has his family, friends, and coaches guiding him to do the right things. Most importantly, one of his coaches is his dad, Coach Vin Lewis.
“I pretty much started coaching like most fathers do, to make sure my son is getting the proper instruction and he doesn’t get hurt doing it,” said Coach Lewis.
Ironically, the elder Lewis got his coaching start with the East Orange Panthers under the tutelage of head coach and team president Tyrone Miles.
“The first lesson of coaching I received was to walk away when I saw my son doing something wrong and let the other coaches take care of him… walk away we got him,” said Coach Lewis.
Both father and son made a positive impact as they made their respective marks as coach and player.
After Johnathan’s second year with the Panthers, the Lewis family decided to take a year off from football before going on to the next challenge. “We felt that it was something that Johnathan should explore as he took time for himself,” said Coach Lewis. “I still continued to coach as well because I wanted to continue to give back to the community.”
The next chapter took the Lewis family to their new challenge when they went to the Newark Brick City Lions and the North Jersey Pop Warner League. Already standing almost at 6 feet at the time, Johnathan made an immediate impact as the Lions missed their first opportunity to the National Pop Warner Super Bowl in the Unlimited Weight Division and Junior Midget Division. He and his father both knew right then that their opportunity to play and coach at the elite levels of youth football were coming true.
Coach Lewis, however, has made it twice to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in 2012 and most recently this past season.
“I knew that being at the Pop Warner Super Bowl only will feed our desire to become national champions one day,” said Coach Lewis.
Both father and son felt that it gave them exposure to see what is out there with the different styles of play.
“We came close our first year there which was Johnathan’s last year of eligibility before going to high school,” said Coach Lewis. “We knew that several top prep and public high schools wanted Johnathan to come and play for them and much like the rest we wanted to break from the popular norm.” That meant St. Joseph’s Regional, located in Montvale, Bergen Catholic, located in Oradell, Paramus Catholic, Don Bosco Prep, located in Ramsey, and Seton Hall Prep, located in West Orange, along with Montclair High School, East Orange Campus High School, and a few other top Essex County football powers were all vying for Johnathan to come to their high schools to be their top student- Athlete.
“I thought about all the times when I played for the East Orange Panthers and then Brick City Lions,” Johnathan explained, “I knew that the choice I make will impact me on my future for college. I wanted to go where most of our kids excelled at the most and not because they were the popular thing to be a part of. So I chose to go to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City because of the proximity to my home and I would still play at a high level when playing football.”
Johnathan also felt that he did not want be the kind of quarterback that just stood in the pocket. He felt he had more to offer as he progressed in the New Jersey high school football elite.
“I have a lot to offer as a quarterback,” Jonathan stated, “but I also know that I have some things to work on in my leadership and confidence on and off the field as well as run-blocking on the field.”
He is planning to major in Exercise Science and Kinesiology once he hits Rutgers’ campus this fall. With just National Signing Day weeks away, Johnathan could not help that he surpassed another former St. Peter’s Prep standout and East Orange native Will Hill, who went on to have a bright college career at the University of Florida and played in the NFL. He stated that he wasn’t aware of the records that Hill had set as a dual-threat quarterback and standout safety until head coach Rich Hansen told him earlier this season that he broke Hill’s rushing record by an estimated 200 yards and finished his senior season with 2,549 total yards (1,557 yards passing, 992 yards rushing).
“I really wanted to see if I can eclipse Brandon Wimbush (now at University of Notre Dame) as well, but I was way behind in that area because he was able to throw for over 3,000 yards in his senior season at St. Peter’s Prep,” he stated.
Johnathan has been named First Team All-State, All-Hudson County, All-North Jersey Super Football Conference and All-Area. The Rutgers commit is excited for the next challenge and can possibly make an immediate impact in the starting quarterback rotation. Although he wasn’t invited to any of the national high school all-star games, he is happy that the choice he’s made was the right one for him.
“I was impressed with the new coaching staff, which made it much easier to commit early in my process and before our trip to Ireland at the beginning of the season,” said Johnathan said.
Coach Lewis is still coaching with the Brick City Lions as an assistant coach and special teams Coordinator of the Unlimited Division in which they played rival East Orange Junior Jaguars in an unprecedented five times during the season and came out on top in all of them by close margins. “We played them twice in the regular season, once in the conference playoffs, once in the Eastern Regional Pop Warner Playoffs, and once in the consolation game in the National Pop Warner Super Bowl and we beat them each time. We were also complimented on our overall performance when we got there this year as we looked to take the Super Bowl Trophy home with us,” said Coach Lewis.
Now that graduation is just under 5 months away, both Lewises will look to have the opportunity to enjoy their next challenges. “If I am lucky enough to make it to the National Football League I will continue to do what I have done that got me there. Otherwise I wouldn’t mind becoming a coach and sharing the knowledge I’ve gained to players who are coming up behind me or just be a Physical Therapist,” said Johnathan.
Coach Lewis is just happy to see that his son has been able to benefit from the overall success of the youth football organizations in the East Orange Panthers and the Brick City Lions as they prepared Johnathan for the elite levels of football and beyond.