By RYAN VANDERSLOOT
While it may not have seemed like a positive at the time, when J.C. Lewis was forced to step away as an assistant football coach at Susquehannock this past year, it provided him a chance to focus.
He was able to focus on his family, spending quality time with the arrival of his first child.
He was also able to focus on the Warrior football program in a different light. As an assistant, his focus was almost always pointed on the team. A season away from the team, however, allowed him to look at other programs in the area,to see if they might be doing things a better way.
Little did Lewis know that the opportunity to use that knowledge would come just around the corner. Shortly after Bill Kerr stepped down as Susquehannock’s coach, the head coaching position opened up.
With his family situation opening up more free time, Lewis jumped on his chance, earning the position as the program’s new head coach last month.
Lewis, the brother of former Penn State punter Evan Lewis, recently talked about his time away from football as well as his future for this edition of Sports Q&A.
Q: What emotions did you feel when you were named as the next football coach at Susquehannock?
A: My immediate reaction was excitement. We have a school district full of very bright and talented young men who are ready to work hard to be successful on the football field. I couldn’t wait to get to work.
Q: What does this mean to you personally?
A: Being a head football coach was a goal of mine from the time I started teaching and coaching. Having the ability to coach is a big reason why I got into the teaching profession in the first place. I’m very lucky to have this opportunity in such a great school district.
Q: What was it like to not be fully available to coach as an assistant this past year?
A: Last football season was very bittersweet. It was difficult not being on the field and I missed it a great deal. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to spend more time with my wife and daughter and I would not trade that for the world.
Q: Did you learn anything from that time that you feel may be a positive?
A: Perhaps the biggest positive that came from not coaching was that I had the ability to step back and analyze not just what was going on at Susquehannock, but what other programs did or did not do as well. I was able to continue to build a vision of exactly what my program would look like if and when I was granted this opportunity.
Q: When did you find out about the opportunity to take over as head coach?
A: I know that the idea of stepping away from coaching was something Coach Kerr had kicked around but it really wasn’t until the job was posted in late December that I knew there would be an opening at Susquehannock.
Q: How close were you to Coach Kerr and what are your feelings about taking over for him?
A: Coach Kerr and I have a very positive relationship. He is a great coach and an even better person. He continues to be a good friend and mentor and has told me his door will remain open should I need it. He has started to move our program in the right direction so I certainly hope I can continue to do the same.
Q: Who will be helping you out as assistants?
A: We’ve just recently rounded out our varsity staff and I couldn’t be happier with the guys that I’ve convinced to come on board. Tim Scripko and Tony Sorice are both teachers in the building and will be joining the ranks once again. I’ve also worked with Jerry Higgins and Austin McCusker in the past and they will be joining the staff as well. Toby Bonitz did a great job running the junior high program for Coach Kerr and I’m very glad to have him back again in that same role.
Q: What characteristics do you feel that you have that make you confident you are the right person to coach the program?
A: I’m a very passionate and motivated individual. I take a lot of pride in what I do, whether that’s teaching, coaching or being a husband and father. I like to think I’m a good teacher and communicator, which are traits any coach must have to be successful. More specific to this job, I’ve been teaching and coaching at Susquehannock for seven years and have gained a lot of knowledge and respect for this school and the community that supports it. I think I maintain a good rapport with our kids and hope that they continue to trust me on the football field like they do in the classroom.
Q: What is your plan for helping to turn around a team that hasn’t experienced a ton of success the past handful of years?
A: Before we do anything with our X’s and O’s we have to get back to basics. Our offseason program needs to become more intense and we need a more consistent commitment from our guys. It is very tough to push people around on a Friday night if they’re two and three times as strong as you are. We also need to find some ways to create a more cohesive program, from our SYC teams to the guys you watch of Friday nights. Whether you’re a football player in fourth grade of 12th grade, you are part of the Warrior football family.
Q: Who in the program are you most excited to coach?
A: This is a tough question for me because I really like all of our kids. I certainly feel as though I have a connection with next year’s senior class, as I worked with them two years ago. They are a fun group and I am excited about their potential. However, there is also something about having an entire roster filled with new names and faces. Already, I can see some younger guys with a lot of potential.
Q: What do you feel is the program’s greatest strength at this point?
A: Right now I think we have a group of young men who are ready to do what it takes to win some football games. Unfortunately, we haven’t experienced a whole lot of success in terms of wins and losses and I think our guys are willing to sacrifice a little bit in order to finally make that happen.
Q: What type of changes, in particular on offense and defense, will you implement?
A: While a lot of what we do this year will depend on our personnel, our offense will be more spread out than it has been in years past. Formation-wise, we’ll be based on a Pro-I look, but probably won’t look or feel like a Pro-I team at times. Defensively, we will run a base 4-4, but play a very downhill, aggressive style. A lot of our play-calling specifics in any phase of the game are still very fluid as we learn what our kids are or are not capable of running successfully.
Q: What area of the team do you feel like you can have the greatest impact on?
A: If I had to choose a position that I might impact the most, I’d have to choose our quarterbacks. I’ll be working with them specifically on the offense. I think I bring a pretty good knowledge base to that position and hope to develop all of them, not just as passers but as play-callers and students of the game. They’ll have a lot of responsibility for what happens on the offensive side of the ball.
Q: What would a successful first season under your helm look like?
A: First and foremost, we want our players to have a positive experience and to leave our program not only as better football players, but better people. On the field, our team goals will be to win our division and make a run in the District 3 playoff bracket.