In his next stage of life, things were going as planned for former South River standout Ka’Ron Lewis.
Lewis rode out of South River on a high, having become the wrestling program’s first two-time state champion as a heavyweight and a twice-named All-County select at nose guard and offensive tackle, as well as the recipient of the 2018 Al Laramore Trophy, an award that honors the county’s best lineman.
He’d moved on to a chance that few players, in the grand scheme of things, achieve: playing at a college level, at Shepherd University in West Virginia.
Impressed with his skill, and because several defensive linemen came up with injuries, Shepherd coaches moved Lewis from left guard to second-string defensive tackle, where the freshman quickly burned up his redshirt and began to impact games. The Rams went 10-3 this past fall and advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs.
“It’s been a mix of a little good,” Lewis said, “with a little bad.”
Five weeks into the season, during practice in October, Lewis endured what every football player is most afraid of.
That one bad hit.
“I don’t even remember how it happened. I mean, that’s expected with an instant hit, not to remember every little detail,” he said, “but still.”
Lewis returned home and went to Anne Arundel Medical Center to have doctors determine the severity of damage to his brain and decide a course of action from there. However, the effects of a concussion were not all the doctors found.
“I got cat scans, MRIs and all that good stuff,” Lewis said. “When I got it, they said they found a brain cyst. They said it was small, at first.”
After heading into overtime, South River senior Ka'Ron Lewis emerged a two-time Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association Class 4A/3A state champion at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro after shutting down Springbrook’s Aimrick Nya, 3-1, on Saturday night.
Lewis went to get a second opinion from a specialized neurologist, who confirmed the cyst but quibbled with its size.
“They said it was abnormally large,” Lewis said, “that it was the size of an Oreo. As of now, they don’t know how I got it, but it’s been there for a while.”
Lewis’ days since the hit aren’t dictated by that discovery — his doctor believes it’s mainly the concussion, and not the cyst, that are causing his symptoms, but will continue to monitor it and check in six months from now.
Even so, after the hit, Lewis’ world shrunk. His hours, once spent at practice and lifting in the weight room, were instead spent in his dorm room.
“When I first got the concussion, just being in any kind of light, especially sunlight, would trigger a crazy headache,” Lewis said, “leaving me unable to really think or concentrate.”
Tasks so menial they normally went unnoticed in the past suddenly didn’t.
“Going about my days, I realize I’m forgetting little stuff. I’d be on my phone, set my phone down on my desk and then say, ‘Oh, where’d my phone go?'” Lewis said. “I’d be looking everywhere for my phone, tearing apart my room looking for my phone, and I just realized, it’s on my desk, clear as day, in plain sight.”
As time has passed, those barking headaches are more of a whimper, total memory loss more of blips here and there. There are memories that the college freshman will never recover, moments that older men nostalgic for “the good old days” will often point back to, that Lewis won’t have.
“I’d just started to notice, I can barely remember beyond two days ago. It’s just a blur,” Lewis said. “At the same time, I can’t remember that I’ve forgotten it, so I can’t be that pressed about it.”
Even in a cloud of bad, Lewis found some good. Returning back to the South River gymnasium, with walls that bear banners recognizing his back-to-back state individual wrestling titles — and people thrilled to see him — is one of them.
“He’s in good spirits about it. He’s come in quite a bit since all this has happened, hung out with us, hung out with our guys,” Seahawks wrestling coach John Klessinger said. “Ka’Ron’s Ka’Ron. He’s lovable, a big guy, happy.”
Perched from the bleachers rather than the sidelines, Lewis can watch his successor making him proud.
During South River’s tri-meet with Glen Burnie and Northeast in mid December, Lewis watched sophomore heavyweight Racheil Coney enact a routine Lewis was very familiar with himself: win, each time.
Coney operated under Lewis’ wing last year, only picking up wrestling to begin with because his senior mentor encouraged him to do so during football, just as he had. Even now, Coney still studies under Lewis when the former heavyweight stops by the Edgewater school.
“He’s tough. He’ll push through this,” Coney said. “When he does come back, he does kind of beat up on me like an older brother. It’s all love. He shows me the way. He shows me everything.”
Slowly, Lewis has dipped his toes back into physical activity — simple workouts with low weights to stay in shape without stressing his still-healing skull.
“I can’t really do anything intense in the sense of working out, sadly,” he said. “This isn’t like a sprain or something along those lines where I know for sure when I’m able to return. But I’ve just been doing light workouts, trying to ease myself back into everything.”
Ka’Ron Lewis met plenty of obstacles during his first year as the starting heavyweight on South River’s wrestling team.
By Jack Chavez
Mar 20, 2018 | 6:00 AM
Equally difficult as the physical strains on his brain were the emotional ones. Shepherd advanced to the postseason without Lewis. They won their remaining games without him.
Lewis had poured so much love into wrestling that in three short years, with absolutely no prior experience, he was able to become the greatest South River had ever known and one of the best heavyweights in the state. Giving that up in pursuit of college football showed how much he loved football even more.
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And by November, all he could do was watch it, no better than through a television screen.
“It definitely hurt me knowing that I didn’t play a bigger hand in my team’s success,” Lewis said, “but at the same time, I was nothing but happy to see the year they were having, and I can’t wait for next season.”
Lewis anticipates he’ll be ready by August, when camp resumes. As he gained approval from his school to compete as a medical redshirt, meaning his play last fall won’t count. He’ll vie for his previous spot at left guard.
Starting as a freshman, in Lewis’ opinion, wouldn’t be half bad.
“I’m going to work and give everything I have to offer to get it and redeem myself from this injury and show my teammates and coaches I deserve to call myself a Ram,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, just have that next man up mentality.”