Surprise! Lewis' HHCA squad a title contender

September 18, 2011 

They are the three undeniable truths of fall in the Lowcountry:

1. It's too hot ... until it gets too cold.

2. The no-see-ums will ruin what few fall-like days we have.

3. Don't sleep on Tommy Lewis and Hilton Head Christian Academy.

You'd think a guy who's been covering high school football in the area for seven seasons would've learned by now, but I still seem to find myself on the sideline most Friday nights either sweating and wishing I'd worn shorts or lamenting the fact I left my jacket and bug spray in the car.

Then I show up to Hilton Head Christian and have to defend statements like "something of a rebuilding year" and that it's "yet to be seen" whether the Eagles can again contend for a SCISAA Class 2-A title, right up to the point I'm walking to my car after they beat the defending state champion.

Um, hypothetically speaking, of course.

It shouldn't catch me by surprise, not anymore, when Lewis plugs gaping holes with inexperienced players and turns them into key contributors in a matter of a few weeks. He has done it time and time again, which is why the Eagles have played for the state championship in four of the past five seasons and reached at least the semifinals in seven consecutive seasons.

If this team can win it all, though, it will rank among Lewis' finest rapid rebuilding projects -- not because the team is devoid of talent but because it has so many inexperienced players in key roles.

Most notably, the Eagles have a freshman quarterback -- the coach's son, Caleb Lewis -- which would be easier to hide if they didn't have a first-year starter at running back in Tyler Chisholm. Neither looked like rookies Friday, as Chisholm rushed for 99 yards on 15 carries and Lewis threw a pair of touchdown passes in the 21-20 win over Thomas Sumter.

"They're making a few mistakes along the way, but for the most part they're seeing things well and doing things well," Tommy Lewis said. "And that's all you can hope for."

It certainly helps that the Eagles are big and experienced up front -- seniors Kyle Weaver, Cole Malphrus and Nick Borghi are all multiyear starters who are 235 pounds or bigger -- which any football coach will tell you is where it all starts.

With the confidence of playing behind that line, the young players are coming along more quickly than could have been reasonably expected.

"Things are starting to click," said senior receiver Alex Martin, who caught two touchdown passes Friday. "Even the young guys are stepping up and doing their jobs. I mean, we just beat the No. 1 team in the state, the defending state champions."

And they made sure a certain local sports columnist heard about it.

"We know we're one of the best teams, and we just wanted to let everyone else know it," Weaver said.

Message received.

With all that said, it's still September. I'm not even ready to call the Eagles the slam-dunk favorite to win their region -- Thomas Heyward Academy looks pretty tough -- let alone the state title. But they're at least a key figure in the conversation.

But there I go again. Some people never learn. Does anyone have any bug spray?

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