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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lewis rises to team captain at Army

Contributed Photo. Army senior soccer player Jason Lewis (12), a 2010 Highlands graduate), kicks the ball ahead in a recent game. Lewis is a team captain for the Black Knights this year. Army is 5-1-1 this year with six shutouts.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Jason Lewis headed to West Point (New York) to focus on academics.

The 2010 Highlands graduate was not recruited by anyone despite helping the Bluebirds to a state runner-up finish as a junior in 2008. But he ended up playing club soccer and the itch came back. Lewis ended up trying out for the Army Black Knights NCAA Division I soccer team and earned a spot on the team in April of his freshman year of 2011.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound midfielder has helped turn around the Black Knights. They are 5-1-1 this year after going 7-10-1 Lewis’ sophomore year and 4-10-3 his junior year. Head Coach Russell Payne is in his fourth year as the Army Head Coach.

“It’s meant a lot,” Lewis said of the turnaround. “The program was at a low point when Coach Payne came in. We’ve been working on building a new culture for winning. Right now, we’re playing great. The work we’ve put in over the last three years is paying dividends for us.”

Lewis played just one game as a sophomore before playing 12 more as a junior. Lewis scored his first career goal at Bucknell last year. That ended up being the game-winner in Army’s 2-1 win. He played center back last year and is a team captain.

“His contributions to the Army soccer program have been immense to say the least,” Payne said. “The direction our team has begun to move is due in part to Jason’s belief in an honest and positive culture being present in our locker room and a serious business-like approach on the training field every day. It is evident that Jason wants this program to be successful and he puts in a shift every day to make sure he is doing his part and our young team is able to follow his example. As you can see over the last two seasons, Jason is capable of finishing his chances on goal and this is invaluable, especially for a player with such heavy defensive responsibilities.”

Through seven games, the 21-year-old has one goal on two shots on goal. That score came in Army’s 2-0 home win over Manhattan on Sept. 2.

“My awareness on the field has gotten back to where it was in high school,” Lewis said. “I hope to keep it that way.”

The Black Knights started the year 5-0 outscoring the opposition by a combined, 9-0. They tied Quinnipiac, 0-0 before losing 3-2 to Houlston Baptist University in their two most recent games. Lewis said the team’s main focus the rest of the year is working on its possession game.

Lewis said the start was big because Army had nine games where it did not score last year. That included four in a row at one point.

The Black Knights hope to win the Patriot League this year. They’re still guaranteed an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament despite that. The Patriot League comprises of a six-team playoff.

"Having coached Jason when he played for Highlands, I am not surprised at all that he is having this much success at the next level," said Matt Ewald, former Highlands assistant. "Jason leads by example and he was always working to push his teammates to succeed. His knowledge of the game was beyond his years as a young player and he worked tirelessly to improve his fitness. Most of all, it is awesome to see such a great kid, one that went through the soccer program at Highlands, doing amazing things as an army cadet. Congrats, Jason."

Lewis said every student-athlete has its schooling paid for. But it took him some time to adjust to life in West Point.

“It’s definitely a culture shock,” Lewis said. “I think once I got things set up here from a military standpoint, I was able to start focusing on other things. It was probably a good thing I didn’t play my freshman year because I needed some time to adjust. Once I did, I was able to get back into soccer which was awesome.”

Lewis is double majoring in German and International Relations. He currently owns a 3.1 grade-point average on a four-point scale.

“It’s definitely a tough balance (between social, athletic and academic lives),” Lewis said. “There are a lot of things you have to do here in terms of a cadet. Once you become used to it becoming part of your daily life, it becomes easier.”

Lewis is part of the Field Artillery Branch. He said you have an eight-year commitment and you can stay in the army or move on after that point. That commitment includes the possibility of going to war.

“You have to be prepared for that,” Lewis said. “We do a lot of military training. Everyone here has a pretty good background. Once you get into your branch, you learn more about it. I am a firm believer in being prepared for whatever comes your way. You have to roll with the punches.”

Lewis may have been gone for four years. But he still keeps an eye on things back in Fort Thomas.

“I try to stay connected to the Highlands soccer team,” Lewis said. “A lot of what I’ve accomplished is because of my high school experiences. Just the competitiveness we had there translated over here.”

The Black Knights have 11 games left this season. Five take place in West Point.

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