CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock head coach Jim O’Hara knows potential when he sees it.
After watching a skinny junior varsity quarterback impress his former colleagues at Cathedral, O’Hara could sense exactly what was happening.
Jarett Lewis — an up-and-coming freshman two seasons ago — would be the next starting quarterback for the Royals varsity football team.
Although playing the most important position on the field, Lewis, a sophomore in 2015, was relatively unknown, but his head coach knew what he had under center.
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And he put him to work. The results spoke for themselves.
In his first full season as a starter for Eastern Hancock, which was ranked No. 2 (10-1) in Class 2A last season, Lewis threw for a school-record 1,750 yards and 19 touchdowns. He only threw six interceptions and completed 63 percent of his passes in a breakout campaign.
“It’s hard to get to him,” O’Hara said, who is in his third season (20-4) with the Royals. “He has quick feet, can run the ball and knows the offense better. Most importantly, he’s just a great kid.
“He got a lot of praise when he played the Cathedral JV that (freshman) year. They thought he was a heck of a player and kind of raved about him.”
O’Hara spent time coaching Cathedral to a state title before coming to Eastern Hancock. He is 107-52 in 15 seasons overall.
According to O’Hara, Lewis, who is also the starting catcher for the Eastern Hancock baseball team, has been blessed with a super-quick release. That mixed with his strong decision-making skills, makes him the impressive player he is, the coach said.
“He has some good instincts,” O’Hara remarked. “He leads by example.”
Lewis said he credits all of his arm progression to a camp hosted by O’Hara and two other coaches. He has attended it the past three seasons.
“All the coaches there are great help since most of them are former quarterbacks,” Lewis said, who loses his top-two receivers from last season. “What I’ve worked on the most has been making pre-snap reads, noticing what coverage the defense is in and possible weaknesses.”
Austin Smith and Matt Bowman, who combined for nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 11 scores, were lost to graduation. Bowman was a dual threat, as well, picking up over 500 receiving and rushing yards.
However, Lewis will not be alone.
Senior running back Devin Denny returns as Hancock County’s leading rusher and should help alleviate some of the pressure off Lewis, who had a season-high 275 yards and five touchdowns in a win over rival Knightstown last year.
Lewis also threw for over 100 yards in nine of the team’s 11 games last season and returns as the county’s leading passer with the graduation of New Palestine’s Alex Neligh.
He averaged exactly 19 yards per completion.
“He (Lewis) can do a lot of things from fitting the ball into the smallest of pockets to scrambling when the pocket fell apart,” Denny said. “Our coaches put us in positions to succeed, and Jarett took full advantage of it. I’m expecting bigger things from him this year.”
Denny finished with 1,321 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while also gaining 373 yards and scoring six touchdowns through the air via Lewis.
“I’m very confident with Denny in the backfield,” Lewis said. “He wants the ball and makes the most out of every run. He’s our go-to.”
Expecting to contribute in place of Bowman and Smith, though, will be a gang of speedy receivers anxious to make a name of their own.
Receivers Payton Wilkinson (junior), A.J. Muegge (junior) and tight end Clayton Cochard (junior) return with experience while Luke Splater (junior), Dakota Linton (senior) and Lukas Mohr (senior) are also expected to contribute on the outside.
All of which, according to O’Hara, can run around a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash.
“The group we have now is definitely capable,” Lewis said, who has thrown extra reps this summer with his new core. “I have confidence in them.”
Passing Yards: 1,750 (school record)
Yards Per Game: 159.1
QB Rating: 127.0
Completion Percentage: 63 percent (92 of 146)
Longest touchdown: 84 yards
Season Highs: 275 yards, 5 touchdowns in win over Knightstown
Consistent: Over 100 yards passing in 9 of 11 games