Jermarius Lewis knew he didn’t have to do anything special. As the North Pike senior lined up to return a punt Friday against Franklin County, he knew a fair catch would have given the Jaguars great field position.
That was his plan. But the punt was short, and he let it bounce, and in the process of trying to get out of the way, the ball hit Lewis in the chest. It was a live ball up for grabs, and Lewis suddenly knew he needed to seize it and make a play.
A few seconds later, Lewis and his Jaguars teammates were celebrating his electrifying 50-yard punt return touchdown.
“When I grabbed the ball, I saw maybe two guys in front of me still. And I was like, ‘If I can get to the other side of the field, then I can score,’” Lewis said. “And as I’m running across, I shake one guy, stiff-arm another guy, and after that it was just green grass.”
Lewis scored three touchdowns in all Friday night, his punt return joining a pair of rushing scores. North Pike breezed past Franklin County, 35-12, to improve to 2-0 in 2021.
“It makes football fun,” North Pike head coach Matt Mock said. “And it makes it easier on us as coaches if you just find ways to get the guy the ball in space, whether it be just handing it to him, whether it be throwing it to him, or in that case, the punt return. It makes football a lot more relaxing, and hopefully we can do that a little bit more throughout the year.”
Lewis, who also plays baseball for the Jaguars, has football ties throughout his family. His older brother Fredarius starred alongside him at North Pike and now plays linebacker for Southwest Mississippi Community College. Their uncle is Glover Quin, a North Pike alumnus, who played 10 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 2014.
The Lewis brothers were always teammates growing up, with Jermarius playing above his age level. He says that while being the younger player wasn’t always easy, he embraced the challenge and became a more versatile player because of it.
North Pike has used Lewis just about everywhere. He’ll line up at running back and wide receiver but can also hold his own at quarterback. On defense, he can play cornerback, safety or linebacker. And then there’s the returning prowess. Lewis has scored touchdowns in five different ways — rushing, passing, receiving, defense and the return game.
“It’s all about planning and getting a kid to realize that to be the best team we can, they need to be on the field wherever we ask them to,” Mock said. “The ultimate word there is unselfish, and that’s what (Jermarius) is — he’s an unselfish kid, he’s playing for his teammates and his family.”
Lewis plans to continue his football and academic career at New Mexico, as he announced his verbal commitment to the Lobos on Aug. 25. While it’ll be an adjustment to leave Mississippi, he’s excited for what lies ahead. It’s life coming full circle in some ways, too — both head coach Danny Gonzales and cornerbacks coach Troy Reffett were on the Lobos’ staff during Quin’s decorated career.
“A lot of guys from southern Mississippi don’t get the opportunity to go to Albuquerque and do something that they love to do,” Lewis said. “I get a chance to go to a diverse state. ... The football program is rebuilding, they’re trying to do something great. Coach G and Coach Reff, those are guys that I’ve known since I was a kid because of my uncle.”
Now a senior, Lewis has taken on a leadership role for a young, gritty Jaguars team. North Pike reached the third round of the playoffs in 2020 and has cruised through its early games this fall. The Jaguars visit Leake Central on Friday and have an off week before district play starts Oct. 1.
“This team isn’t going to settle for being an average team or anything like that,” Lewis said. “We’re striving to be great. ... So we’re gonna be a great team, and if you have to play us, you’re gonna get what you’re looking for.”