New coach not afraid of competing with expectations

Herald file photos
Jasper head coach Tony Lewis talks with his team following the Wildcats' win over Mount Vernon this season. In his first season, Lewis has embraced the challenge of replacing long-time Jasper football coach Tony Ahrens.


JASPER — Jasper football coach Tony Lewis knows a bit about following in the footsteps of an established coach at a program that’s looking to do more than just field a competitive team.

He was in the same position back in 2008 when he was elevated to the head coaching position at Evansville Reitz following the retirement of John Hart. Hart had just finished a year in which the Panthers went a perfect 15-0 en route to winning the Class 4A state championship, and while following that act might have been intimidating for some, all Lewis did was go out and win another state championship in 2009 as he amassed a 53-11 record in his five seasons leading the team. He remembers channeling the facts of his situation into a positive mindset that he used to fuel his efforts at Reitz.

“Trying to live up to those expectations make you work a little bit harder, because you want to do well for the program. There’s only pressure that you put on yourself and it’s a good pressure,” said Lewis. “It’s a pressure that (says) I’m going to work my butt off and give a hundred percent effort to make this work as well as it can go.”

So when he was contacted by Jasper last spring following the retirement of Tony Ahrens, Lewis was not intimidated but rather excited to step back into the coach’s seat of a program that excelled on the field and expected to win. Ahrens, who still heads the physical education department at Jasper High School, also helped the transition by welcoming Lewis to the fold with open arms.

“With Jasper football, there’s expectations,” said Lewis. “I knew what that was all about, so I wanted to get back to a situation where people expect you to do well. What made it comfortable for me was Tony Ahrens. He’s been great to me, he’s been a mentor in terms of what to look for, who to talk to.”

Having the blessing of the former coach certainly helped the change over process, but that doesn’t mean there weren't any bumps that Lewis and the Wildcats had to overcome together.

Having no fear of expectations and the blessing of the former coach certainly helped the change over process, but that doesn’t mean there weren't any bumps that Lewis and the Wildcats had to overcome together. Lewis was trying to implement a new system that involved more spread elements in the offense, but it was clear that the team wasn’t picking it up the way he wanted them to after they dropped their first two games. Some coaches might have dug in and said that the team will just have to live and die by the established philosophy, but instead Lewis demonstrated his flexibility as a coach and tried something new that he thought would match up better with the Wildcats’ talents.

“There’s going to be some tough times when you’re making a transition,” he said. “The kids (and) our assistant coaches were great in terms of working hard and being accountable. We went back and changed everything to put in an option-style offense; it was obvious what we were doing spread-wise wasn’t fitting our personnel.”

The change paid off immediately as Jasper shutout the Boonville Pioneers in their next outing, finished 5-1 during the rest of the regular season and claimed the final Big Eight title. Lewis has done a solid job in the wake of expectations at a new program and he hopes this latest chapter in his football life is a demonstration of the main theme he has been teaching the boys throughout the season: always compete.

“Our kids bring that attitude to the weight room, practice field and games. I don’t think our kids ever lack a great work ethic,” he said. “That’s been one of our deals. Do we win all the time? No, but we’re always going to compete, we’re going to give a great effort.”

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