Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek senior running back Jacorey Lewis has narrowed his college choices to Mississippi State and LSU.
A new kid in Georgia, Jacorey Lewis had no intentions of playing football again. His main mission, after a seventh-grade move from his native Louisiana, was making friends.
Some of those friends, now his current football teammates at Mill Creek, invited the then middle-schooler over for some friendly neighborhood football.
"They asked me to hang out with them and play football in the backyard," Lewis said. "I did that and and they told the coaches about me."
Between those kids and Mill Creek youth football coach Rod Dollar, they talked Lewis into joining the eighth-grade football team. He signed up late and nobody knew what to expect from him --he had played just one season of football as a 7-year-old offensive lineman --so he was placed on the Hawks' Division III team.
By the end of the season, Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis was pleasantly surprised that he had a new running back with loads of potential coming up to the high school program.
"I remember he was playing an eighth-grade playoff game and I asked Coach Dollar, 'Who is this kid?'" Jarvis said. "You could tell his natural ability, his lean, his power. He wasn't big, but he was breaking tackles. Coach Dollar at the beginning of the year didn't know who he had. It wasn't until the end that he started giving him the ball a lot. He was on our Division III team. But we knew then he was going to be a special player."
Since his debut season, Lewis' transition to football and a feature position has gone extremely well. He stood out for the Hawks' younger teams in the first part of his high school career, and has topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark each of the last two seasons.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder currently leads Gwinnett County in rushing yards (1,307), rushing yards per game (163.4) and rushing touchdowns (18), breaking his own school marks in all three categories through eight games of his senior season.
With a powerful lower body, Lewis' physical running style has delivered 8.5 yards per carry. He also has developed more as a running back.
"At first, it was kind of weird (to play running back)," Lewis said. "I didn't really know how you run a ball or run through holes. I would just run straight up the field without following my blockers. But Coach Rod, he taught me well and I've learned a lot more here."
Jarvis said his star running back has improved greatly since last season, with more dedicated weight work and a noticeable boost in speed. He rushed for 1,012 yards and 15 TDs, both school records, as a junior, his first chance in the lineup after backing up talented backs his sophomore season. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry, but wasn't breaking super-long runs for scores.
Running backs coach Tim Rondeau ribbed Lewis about that in the offseason, Jarvis said. But he can't anymore.
Lewis has his share of long-scoring runs already, beginning with a 69-yarder in the opener vs. Dacula. He had 71- and 52-yard TD runs vs. North Gwinnett and a 73-yarder vs. Duluth, part of a record-setting 301-yard, six-TD performance.
"This season has not surprised anybody at Mill Creek that has followed his career from that eighth-grade year on," Jarvis said. "I think he's probably the most underrated back in the state. I can assure you that the opponents we play and the coaches who see him know how talented he is. There are a lot more bigger name backs in the state, but I wouldn't trade Jacorey for any of them.
"I'm tickled to death with his growth both as a person and as a player. I think his better days are ahead of him both on the field and academically in college. He's grown a lot and he's grown a lot on us, too, as coaches. We love that kid to death."
The college recruiting interest has picked up throughout the season for Lewis, and his coaches feel he has the potential to be a Southeastern Conference running back down the road if he continues to improve.
But before he starts thinking college football, Lewis wants to finish his high school career with a better season for the Hawks, who can clinch a playoff berth with a home win Friday over lowly Habersham Central.
Mill Creek made the state quarterfinals in 2010, when Lewis' role was minimal, and missed the playoffs entirely last season. So this season will bring his first postseason experience as a go-to player.
"We feel pretty good about the playoffs," Lewis said. "As long as we continue to get better and stay healthy, we should do pretty well."