Label Lewis sat at the edge of seat at this year's NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, staring down at the anticipated 165-pound final between Cornell's Kyle Dake and Penn State's David Taylor taking place before him.
Lewis and his Hilton Head Island High wrestling coach, Mike Newton, had made their way to Des Moines, Iowa, for the championships earlier in the week. The Seahawks coach wanted to give his star pupil a look at the world that could lay ahead of him.
"That just added more fuel to the fire," Newton said. "Watching those guys compete, that's where he wants to be three or four years down the road."
Newton knows Lewis has all the tools to compete at the Division I level. He showcased that skillset this year, compiling a school-record 60 victories and a second state championship en route to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette wrestler of the year honors.
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"He came out (to the team) as an eighth-grader and finished second," Newton recalled. "We knew then that he was special. He has the talent, the athletic ability and the toughness."
Lewis, who ended his Seahawk career with a school record 175 victories, will wrestle next year for coach Randy Rager at Rochester Community College in Minnesota, which finished this season ranked No. 11 among junior college teams. His aspirations of eventually traveling the Division I route only increased after watching Dake capture his NCAA record fourth national championship in four different weight classes.
"That was a greatest experience I've ever had," Lewis said, "watching Kyle Dake and David Taylor wrestle in the national finals."
"That's one of my goals that I've been working toward since my freshman year," he added. "To become a better wrestler and make it to D-I wrestling."
Lewis capped his senior season with his second state title after earning a major decision over Emerald's Cody Pirkle in the Class 3-A 132-pound final. The win helped Lewis finish the season with a sterling 60-2 mark -- a Hilton Head High record -- while also becoming the school's first four-time placer. He won a state title as sophomore at a lower weight class.
"He's not OK with just being the best in our area, or a South Carolina state champ," Newton said. "He wants more."
Newton certainly got more this year, too, and his coaching efforts helped him garner The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette coach of the year honors. Newton led a young Seahawks team to a second-place finish in Region 8-AAA, behind state runner-up Hanahan, and watched as five wrestlers qualified for state for the first time.
Newton and his brother, assistant coach Chris Newton, helped four Hilton Head High wrestlers finish the year with sterling records after all entered the 2013 season with career losing marks. The group helped Hilton Head High fall just short of a deep playoff run, as the Seahawks lost by a combined eight points to the team teams that wrestled for the Lower State championship.
J.C. Graham also went 46-9 in his senior season for the Seahawks after going 6-5 in his first three years with the program. Martin Duane and Matt Levy, both wrestling varsity for the first time, went a combined 63-34.
"I guess we did a good job of just making a plan, as far as what we were striving for from the first day to the end," Mike Newton said. "We set short-term goals, long-term goals. ... Everyone was focused on what we needed to do to compete and get better and ultimately win."
Lewis led the charge as the only returning starter with significant varsity experience. The team captain went 2-0 in the North-South All-Star match and finished with a 3-2 mark at the Virginia Beach Nationals, coming just one win shy of becoming Hilton Head High's first All-American.
"I think I did pretty good this year," Lewis said. "(The coaches) pushed me in the workout room to do what I had to do and become a state champ."
Lewis came up short of a third state championship as a junior, when he said he "played around" and "didn't take it as seriously" as he did in this, his final season.
The revamped effort in his senior campaign showed on the mat. It's the same effort he plans on taking to the next level, as he continues his push toward wrestling at the Division I level.
"He's a tremendous young man," Mike Newton said. "He's a good kid. He's humble with his success. ... Ever since seventh grade, he's always won. It's real easy for that to get to your head."