By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Dewey Lewis received two rare opportunities as a freshman at Rockford High School that helped set him up for a long and successful high school soccer career.
He was promoted to the varsity soccer team – something that usually doesn’t happen at a school as big as Rockford, or in a program as successful.
And he got the opportunity to play with his brother Sean, a senior at the time who now plays goalkeeper at Western Michigan University.
But Dewey had plenty of learning to do before setting himself apart as possibly the state’s top high school player this fall with the Rams heading into their Division 1 District opener tonight at Okemos.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t want to put in the extra work. I was willing to do the minimum I needed to do to get by,” Lewis said. “But the past couple years I’ve become more mature. My effort has gotten better, and that’s allowed me to make the team better.
“You can be extremely skilled and everything, but if you don’t put in the effort, there’s not a good chance you’re going to succeed. A big part of that is having both the skill and effort, but you’ve got to be willing to put the team before yourself.”
And frequently, Lewis has put Rockford’s team on his shoulders as well.
The senior forward, a Second Half High 5 honoree, entered this week’s postseason play with 52 goals and 46 assists for his career. Last season he broke the team’s single-season scoring record with 20 goals and made the Division 1 all-state third team. Although the career assists just make the bottom of the MHSAA record book list, his body of work from a statistical standpoint doesn’t necessarily jump out compared to some of the ridiculous numbers put up by others over the years.
But context is important. Few players above him on those lists played four years for an MHSAA power, surrounded by similarly-skilled teammates and against competition to match.
This season, bouncing all over the front line and midfield in order to avoid increased defensive attention, Lewis has 17 goals and 12 assists, and Rockford was ranked No. 2 in Division 1 heading into Monday’s games.
“This year his performance has been more dynamic because there’s been so much added pressure. Teams are trying to take him out of the game, but he has nearly the same stats,” Rockford coach Steve Thomas said.
“But that’s what’s great about Dew. He’s a pass-first guy. He’s so willing to give the ball up, to put the ball into a more dangerous situation. I would categorize him as one of the most unselfish kids I've been around.”
The two butted heads at times early in Lewis’ career. Partly, it was because of some of that immaturity that Lewis admits. He also came to the Rams playing at a high club level, but had to adjust to the more physical style of the high school game.
His first two seasons, Lewis was “just fitting in” to those teams, Thomas said. He’d talk with Lewis after practices and express his expectations for his young but talented forward. Sean also kept tabs on his brother, refusing to let him slack off.
At the end of his sophomore season, everything started to click. That next summer, Dewey played a significant role on a Grand Rapids Crew club team that won a U-17 national championship. Last fall, Lewis became the first junior Thomas knows of at Rockford to be named a captain.
He was selected for the same this fall, but not after making a major decision. For the first time, Michigan high school players were forced to pick between high school soccer and playing for U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams that also play during the fall. Lewis was among the elite with the option to do both.
Many from his grade, especially from the Detroit area, chose academy teams. But Lewis – who has committed to play at Michigan State University next fall – decided to stick with the Rams.
Part of his reasoning came down to the high school atmosphere – Rockford played East Kentwood in front of 2,000 fans last season. Part was influenced by the opportunity to play with his hometown friends one more time. And the biggest part likely came down to style of play – he considered the higher-skilled competition he’d see at the academy level, but thought he might benefit more from the harder work and effort he’d have to put in to succeed at the high school game.
And getting one last chance to succeed at this level is the biggest reason he’s back in orange and black this fall. Hailing from any other region of the state, Rockford could have made deep runs in the MHSAA tournaments his first three seasons. But the Rams fell to East Kentwood during the District tournament to end each one, and East Kentwood went on to win the Division 1 championship in 2010.
The Falcons are the only team ranked ahead of Rockford this week, and would be the District Semifinal opponent Thursday if the Rams can get past No. 7 Okemos tonight.
“I think I learned a lot from this season, and going forward it made me a better player in different areas that I wasn’t improving on before,” Lewis said. “There was a lot of pressure to be one of the stars on a high school team, and it helped me learn about dealing with the pressure.
“I don’t like leaving things half done. It was nice to come back and be able to finish things off."
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford's Dewey Lewis works between two defenders during a game earlier this season. (Middle) Lewis works to pass an East Kentwood player. Rockford could play East Kentwood in a District Semifinal on Wednesday.