Leo Lewis is well aware of the accolades. The immensely impressive Mississippi linebacker sees them everywhere.
It's the steady flow of incoming mail from colleges across the country that continues to collect at his home. It's the four-time national champion telling Lewis how much he'd like to have him on the squad, followed by the reigning SEC champ expressing an identical sentiment in a slightly different manner.
It's his status as the nation's No. 1 middle linebacker in 247Sports' composite rankings and an invitation to the 2015 Army All-American Bowl. It's the strangers on Twitter who applaud his skill set.
"It's all just publicity stuff," Lewis said. "It's there, but I don't pay too much attention to it."
The 6'3", 225-pound Brookhaven High School junior maintains his motivation and drive, making him one of the most coveted defenders in the 2015 recruiting class. He's on a mission to make sure that doesn't change.
"I want to show everyone I’m not a fluke and I can continue to improve," Lewis said.
Lewis emerged as an elite-level prospect during a strong sophomore season and elevated his game again in 2013. He tallied 100 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception, per MaxPreps.
The breakout campaign left little doubt about his star potential and resulted in another wave of opportunities at the next level.
Since February, Lewis has garnered scholarship offers from Georgia, Texas A&M, TCU, Clemson and Auburn. Pack those on top of previous offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State, among others.
“I’ve never been around a kid who has exploded on the national scene like Leo has,” Brookhaven coach Tommy Clopton told Clarion-Ledger reporter John Talty earlier this month. “Last spring when coaches came around, they always asked if we had any underclassmen that they needed to be looking at. We said Leo, but there just wasn’t a ton of interest.”
His list features a strong pack of SEC contenders. Lewis' home state includes a pair of programs from the celebrated conference.
Still, he aims to examine every option on an even playing field.
“I don’t really look at conferences,” Lewis said. “I’m open to anything and everything. Whether it’s the ACC, SEC, Pac-12 or whatever, I’m just looking for the right fit.”
Although he's grown used to the national attention as a top target on the recruiting trail, a recent offer struck him by surprise.
“Getting an offer from Notre Dame is kind of big,” Lewis said. “They don’t really recruit in Mississippi, so that means a lot."
The Fighting Irish joined the race in late February. Lewis admitted he hadn't heard much of anything from South Bend prior to receiving the offer.
"I look forward to talking with Notre Dame more in the future," he said.
Brian Kelly and his staff have some catching up to do.
Lewis said he communicates regularly with a collection of college coaches, including Florida State recruiting coordinator Tim Brewster, Georgia head coach Mark Richt, Texas A&M linebackers coach Mark Hagen and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.
The attention is absolutely warranted. That quickly becomes apparent when watching his game film.
Lewis is an intimidator who makes an impact in every phase of the defense. He tackles fundamentally and ferociously, a potent combination that often eludes even the best defensive prospects.
Lewis approaches the perimeter with authority and strings out rushing attempts along the outside edge. His physical frame allows him to navigate and exploit the trenches when lending interior support against the run.
“I’m very explosive,” Lewis said. “My instincts are good. I know exactly where to go and when I need to be there.”
He doesn't skip a beat in pass coverage, displaying the same tenacity and anticipation. Lewis' lower-body quickness allows him to turn his hips and dash upfield while latched to a receiver.
There's certainly a debate about where he fits within various defensive philosophies. Lewis is open to any and all ideas.
“I think I could play in any scheme," he said. "I can work hard and develop enough to play any position, outside or inside. I’m not worried about what kind of defense a team plays."
Despite the mound of offers and a collection of compliments in several scouting reports, Lewis believes he's far from a finished product. There's work to be done if he aims to live up to—and perhaps surpass—the hype that surrounds him.
“I want to get bigger and faster,” Lewis said. “I want to be able to diagnose plays quicker, too. Mostly, I want to be better than last year.
Continued improvement and impressive performances at summer camps could command more interest in the coming months. Lewis said he'd be curious to hear more from Oregon and South Carolina, a couple of programs that haven't yet pulled the trigger on an offer.
There are plenty of candidates for official visits this fall, and teams will spend the spring and summer clamoring to set things up. Looking ahead, Lewis will likely begin whittling down the list of possibilities and enter his senior season with a select group of programs still in the picture.
Most coaches will promise an opportunity for Lewis to push for early playing time. Some are surely leaving the door open for the possibility of a starting role in 2015.
He is set to visit Ole Miss this Friday. Lewis maintains he doesn't have a favorite team in Mississippi, or in America, for that matter.
He doesn't sound ready to announce a decision any time soon, but he is certainly willing to explore a variety of choices. Lewis identified Florida, UCLA, Florida State, Georgia and Cal as some of the schools he remains interested in visiting.
Those are just a few of the campuses that figure to host the dominant defender during a long stretch to national signing day. It remains to be seen which destination will ultimately become home, but Lewis is ready to show he deserves the spotlight all over again while prolonging his recruitment process.
"I want to prove I’m the best linebacker in the country," he said. "I don't want to be the No. 1 player who flops.”
All quotes were obtained by B/R college football recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
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