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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

South East High's Robert Lewis is gaining lots of name recognition

Lewis, a senior running back, could be ready to take over for Crenshaw's De'Anthony Thomas as the biggest offensive threat in the City Section.

August 24, 2011|Eric Sondheimer

Football isn't the easiest sport to play for a teenager who weighs 155 pounds and is being chased by 250-pounders while running through holes created by 300-pounders.

Robert Lewis, a senior at South East High in South Gate, welcomes the challenge.

"I feel I can do anything," he said. "When I'm on the field, I believe I'm untouchable."

As a running back, receiver, kickoff returner and punt returner, the versatile Lewis is ready to take over for Crenshaw's De'Anthony Thomas as the most dangerous offensive threat in the City Section this fall.

"I think he's going to be the City player of the year," first-year South East Coach Derwin Henderson predicted. "It's hard to tackle him. He's not going to run a 10.29 [in the] 100, but he's so shifty and quick out of the blocks. We're going to give him the ball a lot."

There are lot of people pulling for the 5-foot-10 Lewis because he's a self-made success story who grew up in the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in Watts and has tried to use football and education to prepare for the future. His father, Robert Sr., makes it clear he is trying to make sure his son doesn't waste the opportunities in front of him.

"I want him to have the chances I didn't have," his father said.

Robert Sr. and his wife, Diana, are constantly making sure Lewis does his homework and takes care of business in the classroom. Lewis committed to Southern Methodist early in the recruiting process and continues to be pursued by other schools, but everything depends on him keeping his academics in order.

"My parents have had a big impact," Lewis said. "They stay on top of me about my grades. They're very involved."

It was four years ago when Lewis decided to attend South East, which opened in 2005 as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District's expansion of high schools in overcrowded areas. There were lots of people who told Lewis he would get lost going to a school that had no athletic tradition.

"I talked it over with my dad," he said. "He was telling me it doesn't matter where you go as long as you perform. A lot of people tell me when they first think about our school, the first name that comes up is mine. It's a good feeling."

Last season, Lewis rushed for 908 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He caught 27 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored touchdowns returning a kickoff and had three TDs on punt returns, none more dramatic than against Bell.

South East trailed, 7-0. Time was running out. The clock was ticking . . . 20, 19, 18 seconds. Bell sent the punt to the South East 16-yard line. Players from both teams were standing around waiting for the ball to be downed when Lewis suddenly picked it up, raced down the right sideline, then cut back to the left and scored on an 84-yard punt return that tied the score. The Jaguars won in overtime, 14-7.

It was an example of Lewis doing whatever he can to help his team succeed.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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