In Scouting, Pennridge’s Lewis is Chief Chief
On the first play of last September’s Eagles-Chiefs game, Kansas City’s Quintin Demps busted out one of the longest kick returns in his career. It set the tone for Kansas City head coach Andy Reid’s 26-16 triumphal return to South Philly.
Who knew that Demps, a former Eagle, had it in him? He hadn’t had a kick return that long in five years?
Will Lewis did.
A former Pennridge star, Lewis works as the Chiefs’ Director of Pro Scouting. His department’s job is to obtain successful personnel like Quintin Demps.
“Once a player has exhausted his college eligibility, now he is the responsibility of the Pro Scouting Department. Pro Scouting is responsible for anyone who would play in any professional league- obviously the NFL but we also look at guys in the Arena League and the Canadian Football League (CFL),” Lewis explained.
“You become our responsibility in terms of bringing you in for medical evaluations or workouts. We bring in guys who were free agents from another team. We would be responsible for working on trades. If So-and-So gets traded from Philly to here, we would be responsible for the background and evaluations. If anyone gets cut from another team,” Lewis concluded, “it’s our job to do the grading, background and evaluation as well.”
Lewis is entering his second season with the Chiefs, but he has spent nearly 20 years in NFL front offices. He ironically credits “good scouting” in propelling an All-American yet unnoticed defensive back at Millersville on to his fruitful road in football. Between 1978 and 1979, Lewis picked off a dozen passes for the Marauders while also averaging 16 yards per punt return.
“I was really just in the right place at the right time,” said Lewis, who was inducted into Millersville’s Hall of Fame in 1996. “I also think that scouts in the NFL at the time did a great job at scouting small college players. I was pretty fortunate that a Seattle guy came to Millersville a couple of times and watched me play.”
How times have changed. Today, the NFL Draft is nationally televised. When Lewis went undrafted- and the Seattle Seahawks wished to sign him- a Millersville teammate had to hunt Lewis down in the dining hall to tell him that the Seahawks were on campus.
Lewis played in Seattle for two seasons; he once returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. “It was an enjoyable experience for the most part,” Lewis reflected. “Everybody would have liked to have played a long time and make a Pro Bowl but it gave me the opportunity to continue to play and find out some things about myself.”
He spent four years in the CFL and earned All-League honors for Ottawa. Yet the most fun Lewis had in football was when he was an all-USFL defensive back as a Houston Gambler.
People forget how good the USFL was. The Gamblers’ quarterback, who Lewis faced in practice every day, was Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
“With Jim Kelly, you can’t help but get better as he is throwing the ball to the receivers that he had. It’s him, with his football and quarterback mentality, teamed with that Howitzer for an arm. But it’s the receivers that he had like Ricky Sanders, Clarence Verdin and Gerald McNeil,” noted Lewis. “Those guys were all fast, good route runners, elite players like Jim was.
Sanders would eventually have 193 receiving yards in a Super Bowl. Verdin and McNeil would eventually each make a Pro Bowl.
“When you were going against Jim,” Lewis continued, “there wasn’t a lot of time to recover as a defensive back. The ball gets there so quick. That is what makes you better as a defensive back is that your reaction has to be quicker, your footwork has to be better because you didn’t have down time to recover.”
Unbeknownst to him in 1984, Lewis was also practicing against history. Two Gamblers coaches- offensive coordinator Mouse Davis and quarterback coach June Jones- were installing a quick-read, pass heavy offense. Known as the run-and-shoot, it is the father of the spread offense in such heavy use today.
“At the time, we obviously thought we had an advantage over everybody else because of the quarterback we had and the receivers that we had,” Lewis remembered. “It was Mouse’s scheme. We were fast paced as well. We ran a lot of routes and could score at any given time. Back then it was called the run and shoot- but it is basically the spread offense that people run today. It was innovative, it was ahead of its time and it received a lot of criticism at the time as being a gimmick offense that wouldn’t last.”
The connection with June Jones not only improved Lewis as a defensive back, but it also helped his career. Jones eventually worked his way up to the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons; he added Lewis to his staff as a defensive coach after Lewis spent several years coaching in the college ranks.
When Jones was fired at the end of the 1996 season, so was his entire staff. Fortunately, NFL brass noted that Lewis’ reports tended to be exceptionally detailed and well written. The Falcons’ head of player personnel recommended Lewis as a candidate to fill a scouting vacancy with the Green Bay Packers.
Lewis accepted a scouting job with the Packers in 1997; he has been in front office roles ever since. In Green Bay, he also worked closely with a young quarterback coach named Andy Reid.
After three years in Green Bay, Lewis re-joined the Seattle Seahawk organization, eventually rising to their Director of Pro Personnel.
Arrowhead Stadium is a long way away from Poppy Yoder Field where Lewis also played quarterback for Pennridge. He scored the only touchdown in the 1974 Thanksgiving Day Quakertown game.
“We won like, 6-0 and the field had six inches of mud on it. It rained that day,” Lewis remembered. “It was a typical Thanksgiving Day game- low scoring and muddy.”
When Lewis is able to make it back to Bucks County, he is able to share his Ram memories with his family. “One of the things that stuck out for me that was kind of unique,” Lewis mused, “is that I got to play my entire high school career with family members. Even now, when we get together, we can share some of those moments.”
In all three Ram seasons, Lewis took the field with at least one close relative. One year his fullback was Robb Riddick. In addition to being a relative, Riddick would also star for Millersville and play six seasons for the Buffalo Bills.
Poppy Yoder Field is also where a young Lewis learned his true love for the gridiron. “(Then coach) Wayne Helman would always let us younger guys- when we were in sixth or seventh grade- come down during summer camps, give Gatorade to the varsity football players and pull the bags around,” Lewis recalled. “It was kind of like being a little ball boy.
“That is also where you figured out if you were passionate about the game,” he pointed out. “They would be down there all day long, and back home, it was going to be hot and humid all day long.”
Even then, a good scout could see that Lewis’ combination of talent, smarts and passion would take him very far in football.
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