By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melisa Tribune

MELISSA - Melissa All-State quarterback Brendon Lewis will soon be taking his game to a big stage – and that surprises exactly no one who’s seen him play.

Surrounded by a brimming host of friends, coaches and family on Dec. 18 in the Melissa High School gymnasium, Lewis inked his National Letter of Intent to attend and play football for the University of Colorado at Boulder.

That means PAC 12 football - a dream of Lewis’ since childhood.

For the uninitiated, Lewis threw for 9,088 yards in just over three seasons as Melissa’s varsity starter, and he tallied another 3,497 rushing yards during that time. (Yes, besides having a cannon for an arm, Lewis was a punishing runner who didn’t go down after first contact.) Additionally, he accounted for 142 all-purpose touchdowns.

“It’s just a relief,” Lewis said shortly after putting pen to paper. “It was a journey, it was a grind. I was blessed to be able to get this opportunity to go on and play college football at a D-1 university in the PAC 12. That has always been a dream of mine.

“The people [at Colorado] are really nice and it just felt like home away from home. And, obviously, the scenery is nice.”

Lewis said he plans to major in business.

Melissa fans will certainly recall Lewis’ first varsity start Nov. 4, 2017, in the district-finale versus Community High School at Cardinal Stadium. That night, freshman Lewis stunned the Braves with 322 yards passing and four touchdowns enroute to a 42-22 win to clinch the third playoff seed in District 5-4A(II).

“I was getting super nervous before the game,” Lewis recalled. “I couldn’t tell you how I really felt, I was so nervous. After I made the first big play, I go, ‘This is not that bad.’ Then I just kept making plays. … It seems like just yesterday I was starting in my first varsity game.”

The following year as a sophomore, Lewis led the Cards to an undefeated district championship as Melissa rolled to a school-record 12-straight wins enroute to the state quarterfinals. Lewis made First-Team All-State that season and was district’s Offensive Player of the Year. During that 12-2 campaign he threw for 3,329 yards, rushed for 1,150 more and posted 52 TDs.

In 2018, Lewis led Melissa to a 7-3 regular-season mark and a bi-district playoff win, earning First-Team All-District honors and an Honorable Mention All-State nod with 2,983 yards through the air, 1,069 rushing yards and 41 TDs.

This past season, Lewis and the Cards reached the third round of the playoffs after a 5-1 second-place district finish. Amassing 2,776 passing yards, 1,278 yards on the ground and 49 touchdowns, Lewis was again named the district’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Melissa Athletic Director Seth Stinton, also in attendance at the signing event, was Lewis’ head coach in 2016, 2017 and 2018, when current Cards Head Coach Matt Nally was offensive coordinator. This past season, as Nally took the reins, Jason Russell became OC. “I remember Brendon Lewis as a skinny eighth-grader,” Nally said. “You could see the potential that he had … and now Brendon is the standard of what a Melissa Cardinal quarterback is. His stats are like what you would see on a video game. He’ll probably go down as the best quarterback to ever play in Melissa. “But I’m more proud of Brendon as a person. Brendon is a great man. He’s going to be a great father, he’s going to be a great professional in whatever he does because of his great work ethic and the expectation he holds for himself. Everyone is going to miss his actions on the field in Cardinal Stadium. I know I will.”

Lewis’ parents, Brian and Rolanda Lewis, were on hand, along with his brother, 2019 MHS graduate and Cardinal football player BJ Lewis. “It’s really crazy,” Rolanda said, “because when [Brendon] was first starting to play football he was defensive player. “That sophomore season was amazing and I was, like, ‘Wow.’ Brendon has put in a lot of hard work. It’s been an emotional ride for us, with the decision. But he decided on Colorado and he stuck with it. … Colorado is beautiful and the opportunity for an education from the University of Colorado is so exciting. The people, the coaching staff, they welcomed us. … It’s a long way from home, but Brendon always says, ‘It’s just two hours, Mom, on the airplane.’” What will Lewis miss about Melissa? “Definitely the coaches - Coach Stinton, Coach Nally, Coach Russell,” he said. “They’re just amazing people. I wouldn’t be here today without them. They really helped guide me and shape me into a better football player and a better man.”