While quarterback Will Howard was the real deal, Tyriq Lewis was the heart of the Downingtown West scoring engine
DOWNINGTOWN: Twenty years from now, members of the 2019 Downingtown West football team will get together to remember the season, the 13-2 record, the 6A District One championship and the numbers the Whippets put up as one of the most prolific high school offenses in Pennsylvania history.
“We knew when they were in eighth grade, it was a special group,” long-time head coach Michael Milano said in a recent one-on-one interview. “We worked really hard to keep them together.”
The casual high school football fan will be quick to note the outstanding play and leadership of quarterback Will Howard. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound signal caller will be playing at the next level for Power 5 Kansas State.
While Howard earned all his accolades during his high school career, the Whippets offense was an ensemble of standout players.
DOWNINGTOWN WEST WAS A RUN-FIRST OFFENSE
The guts of the West offense was produced by running back Tyriq Lewis, a 5-9, 170-pound ball carrier who produced 60 career rushing touchdowns and 2,938 yards on the ground. Lewis also caught 58 passes for 759 yards and six more touchdowns. For kicks, he returned a punt for a score his senior season.
The Whippets had a stout offensive line led by Beau Bryan, who is headed to Millersville, and an elite tight end in Sean Pelkisson, who will be catching passes and blocking for the Georgia Southern Eagles of the FBS Sun Belt Conference.
“It always starts with the line,” Milano said. “I've always been a run-first coach. Even with a division one quarterback this year, we were 60-40 run-to-pass. It wasn't like we were a pass-happy team. Being a running back in this system, you're going to get the football. A running back in this system with the skills Tyriq had, you're going to have great success. We were able to make people conscious about the back end because of Will's abilities, then the line was solid and Tyriq was simply outstanding.”
Lewis said he still has a hard time digesting all the yards and touchdowns he scored over the last three seasons.
“I tend to tear myself down a little bit,” Lewis told Footballstories on school-signing day on the Downingtown West’s campus. “But I really do think I had a very successful year. Growing up as a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play Downingtown football. I wanted to play in that stadium. I was on the sideline as a 6-, 7- 8-year old watching the games. I would watch the seniors...that's all I ever wanted to do. I worked endlessly and tirelessly. I worked so hard to just get to that moment.”
“Looking back on it, I achieved way more than I ever thought I would. I reached goals that I didn't even think were possible. I set small goals for myself and I overstepped them by three steps in my opinion. That was something I never thought I would have gotten to. I never thought I would be breaking records.”
LEWIS WANTS HIS LEGACY TO CONTINUE IN DOWNINGTOWN
Lewis was asked if he believes there were kids on the sidelines this year watching him scoring touchdowns and dreaming of playing in Kottmeyer Stadium as he did years ago.
“People do tell me that you've got to watch what you do because there are little kids looking up to you,” said Lewis, who lists Marshawn Lynch and Christian McCaffrey as his favorite NFL running backs. “Some of them I know, some of them I talk to, I chat to. There's definitely some I believe that I've never really talked to, but I know are looking at me. I just to try and present myself the best way, and do what I can to set a good example for those kids.”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS NEXT - HOW THE PROCESS WORKED
Lewis is headed to East Stroudsburg University to continue his career. Since the Warriors play football at the Division II level, Lewis is getting a scholarship from the school.
Lewis said several other schools talked to him, mostly from the PSAC, including Millersville, Kutztown, Slippery Rock, Widener, Lebanon Valley and West Chester.
“It really came down to Millersville, West Chester and East Stroudsburg.” Lewis said. “Those were the schools I was most interested in.”
Lewis said he visited some FCS (1-AA) schools in the area, but decided to go to a program that really wanted him.
“Exactly,” Lewis said. “That definitely played a big role in it. They tell you to go where you're wanted and cared for, and East Stroudsburg really showed me that. I think I wanted to be there as much as they showed they wanted me.”
Lewis talked about having an opportunity to play as a freshman next fall.“I definitely think I will have the opportunity to,” Lewis said. “I do want to get in there and work my tail off and show what I can do. I believe that I can really be a big, strong impact on this team, even coming in my freshman year. If it plays out, it plays out.”
WHIPPETS SIMPLY HAD TOO MANY WEAPONS
Lewis said the Whippets set scoring records because opponents didn't know who to cover. That made it easy to feed off each other.
“I think this senior class in general, even as eighth graders, people told us we were going to do something very special,” Lewis said. “We knew we had the opportunity and potential to do it. It was just a matter of literally going out and showing it. People like me, Will, Beau, Sean, and (running back) Max Hale (Penn, wrestling), definitely, we played off each other a lot. The energy was always high on the field. We were always chatting each other up, talking, helping each other out. It definitely built a strong bond and it showed on the field.”
The Whippets' success came by outscoring their opponents. West scored 674 points in 15 games. Downingtown West's defense was to simply overwhelm every team with points. When your offense averages 45 points a game, most of the time it didn't matter what the other team scored. Having big leads also gave Milano a chance to play underclassmen.
IN THE END, THE WHIPPETS WERE MORTAL
Injuries on defense eventually caught up with the Whippets. In their four playoff wins, West did not hold an opponent to under 30 points. Their offense carried them to a District title, exorcised the roadblock Coatesville had been in the past, and took them to the doorstep of playing for the PIAA 6A State Championship. Then the Whippets finally ran into a team they couldn't outscore.
Downingtown West lost to Central Dauphin, 65-44 in the state semifinals, ending their season. Lewis said the loss stung everyone after coming so close.
“It's worse if you don’t go all the way.” Lewis said. “You kind of know at the end of the game, and you're looking up at the clock, you know it's kind of over. I think in my mind, I had people on the sideline, players who were down, who were hurt, people crying on the sideline because they knew it was over."
“Those last three to five minutes, I just wanted to go out on a strong note. I wanted to finish off my career and my senior year with as much integrity as I could. I was working my tail off even in those last couple of minutes, even down to the last ten seconds. When it was over, there were tears, but not one regret. Looking back, I just really thought we had a really good run. I don't regret one moment of it. No one can take that away from us.”Lewis said all the players from his senior class plan to stay in touch throughout their college football careers. “One hundred percent,” he said. “Our senior class is just one big brotherhood. It's family.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER FOR THESE PLAYERS
Playing sports in college while taking care of academic requirements is not easy. Many walk away after one season. Milano was asked if he thought his players knew what they are going to be up against next year, and if he thought they'd make it.
“They don't, they don't,” Milano said. “They're big fish in a small pond right now. They'll go and find out how hard it is. Now this group I'm sending on, we talked about in eighth grade, they love the game. They love to compete. That's obviously the reason why we had such a special season. But I'd be shocked if these guys don't stick it out. I'd be shocked.”
Coach Milano is probably right. A team for the ages doesn't give up.*
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii