Tyronda Whitaker reluctantly allowed her son to play football when he was five years old.
But standing next to what is now a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end, Whitaker was consumed by tears of joy Thursday while a smile that her son, Tarboro’s Tyquan Lewis, couldn’t fake overwhelmed his face.
Lewis verbally committed to play collegiate football at Ohio State over North Carolina and LSU.
“Even though Ohio State is 10 hours away, I still feel that me and my family will always have a connection that no one can break,” Lewis said. “Honest to God, we’ll just always have that bond.”
Although Lewis is much older than his brothers, he grew up in a single-parent home with his three younger siblings. The decision to leave them for an out-of-state school was Lewis’ biggest hurdle. He didn’t want to leave, but he knew that it was necessary.
“It’s part of growing up,” Lewis said. “I can’t stay with my mom forever. I can’t stay with them forever. We all have to grow up one day. I just came to my senses that it’s going to happen one day, and you don’t want to pass up opportunities. You have to go and get things in life.”
Lewis, who has helped Tarboro win two of its three consecutive NCHSAA 2-A state championships, was considered to be a four-star defensive end.
Along with his final three choices, Lewis also considered Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
Ultimately, his mother had to be comfortable with the decision.
She gave him her blessing after the two visited Columbus, Ohio together.
“I’m just so proud of him and overwhelmed with all of the emotions and everything he (has) been through,” said Whitaker, who didn’t go with Lewis on his first trip to Ohio State. “Never in a million years did I think my child would be a top-recruited football prospect.”
Lewis becomes the second Tarboro player to commit to a major-conference program in the past two years.
Running back Todd Gurley is playing at Georgia, while former Vikings Takoby Coefield (Duke) and Shaun Draughn (Kansas City Chiefs) have both played beyond high school.
“We have truly been blessed in our small town with the great talent that we have,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said.
Lewis is another on that list of skill. But there wasn’t anything specific that drew Lewis to Ohio State. He said it was the total package, but then mentioned one man.
“Coach (Mike) Vrabel was more than a coach,” Lewis said.
Vrabel is the defensive line coach at Ohio State but won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.
Lewis connected with Vrabel, maybe on a level deep enough for Lewis to leave the woman who always has been at his side.
“He was more than a coach. He was a mentor. He was a father-figure to me,” Lewis said. “He said, ‘If you come here, I can always be by your side.’”
For Lewis, his mother and his brothers always will be by his side, even if Columbus is a 10-hour car ride.
But Whitaker said that’s why there are cars, planes and trains.
Lewis knows that’s what Skype is for, as well.
“They are the best little brothers I could ever ask for,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t trade those boys for nothing. They are the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Even though I’m going to be away from them, I’ll still talk to them every night and tell them I love them.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org