Feature photo: After his incredible junior season was cut short by a major knee injury, Dorian Lewis, left, made the comeback everyone expected (courtesy/NMAA).
By Sebastian Noel
For Enchantment Sports
“Make sure people understand what kind of kid he is. He’s special-special — oh, and a good football player, too.”
Those were the last instructions I received from Cleveland Storm head football coach Heath Ridenour after I thanked him for his time in interviewing for this story.
It’s that kind of praise and adulation that just seems to follow Dreamstyle Remodeling/ Enchantment Sports Player of the Year Dorian Lewis around.
I can remember first meeting Lewis two years ago when he reluctantly came in to appear on my ProView Networks television show, “Local Focus w/Sebastian Noel.
It was a steady diet of “yes sir,” no sir,” “thank you sir,” when he came into our studio.
All of us at ProView Networks were big fans of his game and this was our first chance meeting him.
Obviously, we were all very impressed.
We’ve been far from the only ones.
Out in the West Texas town
In 2018, Lewis and his mother, Tina Vestal Lewis, moved from El Paso to Rio Rancho and enrolled at Cleveland.
“I knew Dorian was coming, so I did my fair bit of research,” Ridenour recalls. “I found some video on him and wanted to figure out if he was a player that could help. It took about 30 seconds into the video to realize the kid was a gem. The excitement began to grow.”
I wasn’t the only one to notice his respectful nature.
“’Yes sir’ is just a phrase that rolls out of his mouth on a regular basis because he is such a respectful young man,” Ridenour confirms.
He was as good as advertised.
In an early-season game last year against the Eldorado Eagles, Lewis, then a junior, ran for 402 yards on 37 carries (unofficially) and had five touchdowns.
He was so impressive that night, he garnered Enchantment Sports Player of the Week honors, and editor Mark Smith compared him to Hobbs’ Timmy Smith, Sandia’s Mike Carter and West Mesa’s Ray Barrs – some of the greatest running backs in state history.
A knee injury would end his season, but not before the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior running back rushed for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns. Lewis tore the ACL in his right knee early in the Storm’s ninth game, against West Mesa, and he missed the rest of the season.But Lewis certainly had made his mark and peers and opponents alike were wishing for a speedy recovery.
That certainly didn’t surprise Ridenour.
“Dorian is as humble as anyone I have ever met,” Ridenour said. “His humility and ability to raise up his teammates long before bragging on himself is what made him an instant hit in the locker room. There isn’t one guy on the team that isn’t his friend and he would go out of his way to help any one of those guys.”
Throughout his junior year he was also a big hit in the classroom, maintaining a B-grade point average and gaining his teachers’ admiration.
“I’ve never had a teacher say one cross word regarding Dorian. His respectful demeanor isn’t something that only exists in the field house. It is truly who he is.” Ridenour reports.
Lewis is also a member of the school’s Black Student Union, and volunteers locally as part of area beautification projects and as a youth football coach.
Super senior expectations
Much was expected of Lewis for his senior seasons.
Maybe too much — and too fast.
He was being compared to La Cueva legend Ronnie Daniels.
But after all, Lewis was recovering from a devastating ACL injury.
Enter Ridenour and “The Plan.”
“Load management was always the plan, the coach said. “It wasn’t necessarily discussed in depth with him. But as his coach, knowing what he is capable of and what he had been through to rehab, it was my goal to bring him along slowly by limiting his workload to allow him to get back in his groove without the pressure of carrying his team on his back.
“I worked hard to find other ways to move and score the football without pounding him excessively.”
But how would Lewis, who was always a workhorse, respond?
“Dorian felt the carry restriction right away, and wasn’t happy with it,” Ridenour said. “He was never disrespectful, but he constantly told me he was ready. The look on his face said far more to me than the words coming out of his mouth. Dorian was hungry to get back to his old ways, but I just felt the need to continue with the plan and bring him along slowly.”
During Cleveland’s non-district schedule, Lewis carried it 68 times. That’s an average of just under 14 carries per game.
What must have been going through his mind?
“It was week-by-week, step-by-step,” Lewis said. “Coach didn’t tell me he was going to limit my carries during the season. It made me mad, but I knew he had a plan and an end result in mind.”
And Lewis was all about his team.
“We were winning. I didn’t want mess up the flow.”
But the noise around him was deafening. People were asking constantly why he wasn’t carrying the ball more.
“Coach had a plan. He put us on top,” he said.
With district play, came more carries. Twenty-two against Volcano Vista and twenty-nine against Rio Rancho.
The plan was working. It was playoff time.
Ridenour certainly believes it all worked out.
“I told him before we played Clovis that there were no restrictions. If it takes 35 carries to win then that is what we will do.”
In his last two high school games he had nearly 70 carries, almost 500 yards of offense and nine touchdowns.
Will “load management” become a trend?
Ridenour has no regrets. “I don’t know if the plan had an impact on his ability to finish the way he did, but if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I made that decision with his best interest in mind. He’s the best player in the state and he got to play in all 13 games this season.”
The Cleveland Storm (11-2) took a 48-40 win against cross-town rival Rio Rancho (8-5) in the Class 6A state championship game.
Asked about his push to the title, Lewis recalls, “It was unforgettable. I had a boulder on my shoulder.”
By now you have to be pretty impressed with not only Dorian Lewis, but also Heath Ridenour.
That’s where this story has a heart-filled conclusion.
On his bond with Lewis, Ridenour was effusive.
“There are special players that come along every so often that just seem to tug on your heart strings,” Ridenour said. “I love everyone one of my players and would do anything for any of them. Dorian is no exception. He and I have a special relationship that goes far beyond the lines of the football field.
“The conversations we’ve had in my office and outside of football are some of my most cherished memories with him. We talk about so much more than football.”
And Heath isn’t the only Ridenour fond of Lewis.
“My son, Cooper, adores Dorian,” coach said. “Dorian is his favorite player and he cannot wait to go to the field house and see Dorian.
“When a player starts having an impact on your own children, you start to realize how impactful his presence is in your program and in your community. There isn’t another guy I’d rather have my son look up to. Dorian will forever have a place in my family. My time as his coach is over, but he will always be part of my life and my family’s life and Dorian knows that. We’re family.”
Lewis when asked about that same bond, paused, gathered his thoughts and simply said, “I love him to death as a coach and a person. I’d do anything for him.”
Sebastian Noel is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and host of “Local Focus w/ Sebastian Noel,” airing weeknights at 10 p.m., on ProView.
Noel, also serves as the on-field reporter during the My50TV game of the week during the football season and is a frequent contributor to Enchantment Sports.