Kevin Lynott has a rather loud and reverberating voice, which is perfect for when he's coaching 60 football players on Friday nights at Middletown High. But Lynott's vocals have other advantages as well. On Saturday afternoons he booms out the names of youth football players as the public-address announcer for the Middletown Valley Athletic Association.
Lynott has called out some pretty impressive names over the years, but one in particular resonates with him. Three years ago Lynott was announcing a game between Middletown and Brunswick. Middletown won the game, 18-0, and went on to win the championship, but that's of little consequence. All he remembers is a rugged running back who would flat out run guys over. The kid took pounding after pounding, all for that extra inch.
And over and over again, Lynott kept calling out the name: Ben Lewis.
"He ran so hard, with an absolute reckless abandon," Lynott remembers. "He just ran over people, and when he got hit he popped right up and ran back to the huddle. I was like, 'Man, I wish I could coach this guy.'"
Three years later, Lynott got his wish. Lewis spent his first two years at a local private school, St. John's, because he wanted to "expand his horizons." But in the middle of his sophomore year he transferred back to Middletown.
"I did well at St. Johns', but then the athletics went down a ltitle bit and I decided to leave," Lewis said. "I always loved Middletown, and I decided to go back. I always was a Middletown guy at heart."
Needless to say, Lynott was thrilled. The Knights' coach didn't even need to give Lewis a tryout. With Lewis' MVAA days still fresh in his mind, Lynott immediately stuck him right into the starting lineup. He then watched him turn a 100-yard man-eating battlefield into his own personal playpen.
At 6-feet-3 and 185 pounds Lewis didn't play running back anymore, but that didn't stop him from making game-changing plays as a receiver, linebacker, defensive end and safety.
On offense he hauled in 48 passes for 911 yards and 13 touchdowns, and on defense he racked up 73 tackles and eight sacks. For his efforts Lewis earned First Team All-Conference honors on both offense and defense and Second Team All-State accolades for defense.
"Ben Lewis is dangerous man," said Rivals recruiting analyst Wayne Yarborough. "To me, personally, he's better than [Fredrick receiver] Jalen Gee, who already has an offer. But Ben Lewis is the best receiver in Frederick County, no doubt. He has the size, the speed, the strength - he's got it all."
His physical attributes are many, but they only tell a portion of Lewis' story. He's made of stuff much stronger then mere talent. Stuff like toughness, want-to, passion, desire and any number of clichés coaches use to laud their players.
Simply put, the kid's a "football player."
"It takes a special player to do what he's done," Lynott said. "But what really makes him special is his willingness willing to lay his body out; he's willing to do whatever it takes to get to the ball. Its like he has no respect for himself or his body. His desire to make a play is tremendous."
This list of Lewis' game-altering plays is seemingly infinite. His highlight tape is a 10-minute montage of jaw-droppers, from acrobatic one-handed snags to deadly, cringe-inducing sacks. But two clips in particular illustrate Lynott's point.
In Middletown's first-round playoff game against Walkersville Lewis hauled in six passes for a season-high 139 yards and a touchdown in a 35-14 Knights victory. The touchdown catch has been immortalized on film, in newspapers and on the Internet.
With the Knights driving inside the Lions' red zone Middletown quarterback Michael Pritts lofted up a pass down the left sideline. Lewis, his intended receiver, was double-covered. But as the ball came in, Lewis out-leaped both defenders, snagged the pass and came down in-bounds at the 1-yard line. Then, as soon as he landed, he spring-boarded overtop a Walkersville defender, went parallel to the ground and reached the ball over the goal line.
Lewis was pummeled on the play, his body smashed by a on-coming safety. But the touchdown counted.
"He was just a darn good athlete; he gave us a lot of problems," said Walkersville safety Jake Miller. "He was pretty tall, too, and most of our corners were little guys, so he just went over top of them. He made plays all over the field and was a real physical [presence]."
Lewis' innate toughness was on full display against Thomas Johnson in Week 4. To call this game a defensive struggle wouldn't do it justice. It was drop-dead dogfight, a bloodbath if you will.
The Patriots led 13-12 with two minutes left in the game, but the Knights had the ball at the 10-yard line. Lewis, who had been held to just one catch all night, ran a drag route over the middle.
Pritts hit him in stride, but that was the easy part. Lewis then proceeded to bounce off one defender, bull through a second and carry a third into the end zone. Middletown emerged as 18-13 winners.
"Probably my best play," Lewis said. "That took everything I had."
Lynott, however, never had a doubt.
"When he caught that ball, everyone who'd ever seen Ben play knew he was going to score," Lynott said. "When he wants something, it gets done."
That's no exaggeration. This is a kid who, when told he needed to add bulk, worked out twice a day in the weight room and changed his diet from McDonald's to angus steaks. This is a kid who, when told he wasn't fast enough, began working with personal speed coaches to bring his 40-yard dash time down in the 4.5-second range. This is a kid who, when told he had to play five different positions on offense and defense, shrugged and asked, 'Can I play special teams, too?' (For the record, he did. He returned 13 punts last year and played gunner on the coverage team.)
"I hate going off the field," Lewis said. "I love defense, I love offense and I love special teams. There's something about being out there - I love it."
That kind of mentality is already opening the eyes of college recruiters.
In fact, Lynott already had a pro scout evaluate Lewis' film. He was immediately deemed a Division-I-caliber player. Granted, Lewis' 40 time is keeping him from receiving an early scholarship offer, but there's little doubt some school will take a chance on him.
"A lot of the coaches are saying he has great hands, great body control end excellent change-of-direction speed," Lynott said. "Then, defensively, they're saying he could easily be a strong safety with how hard he plays and his nose for the ball. He can play anywhere; it's just a matter of what the particular team needs."
And what team doesn't need a physical freak who'll fight like a buffalo soldier defending his homeland? Who wouldn't want a kid who's willing to lay it all on the line?
Just to get that extra inch.