EVERETT — Kai Lewis has been waiting a long time for Friday night — 357 days to be exact.
This time last season the Archbishop Murphy High School quarterback was riding the emotional high of being named the starter after battling then-senior Colton Johnson for the job over the summer.
But Lewis’ junior campaign was over before it ever had much of chance to get going.
On the final play of the second quarter in Week 2 against Fife, Lewis rolled out to try and make a play. A defensive lineman was able to get ahold of him and rolled up his legs awkwardly.
Lewis at first thought it was just minor bump, but then he tried to get up and take a step. He said he felt everything collapse.
“I wasn’t even on the sideline for five minutes before my trainer was feeling around my leg and told me it was definitely broken,” Lewis said. “From that point I just started crying because I knew my season was over. It was just all the emotions of everything I’d worked for over the summer and everything that I was striving towards was getting thrown out the window until my senior season.”
The final diagnosis was fractured fibula, broken in three spots.
“I was feeling a little bit down on myself (after the injury),” Lewis said, “but then I rechanneled that energy from sadness into motivation to get back out here.”
The senior signal-caller returns this fall ready to lead the Wildcats to a bounceback season after an injury-riddled 3-6 year in 2021. And Murphy is certainly excited to have the dual-threat quarterback back with the keys to its spread offense.
“He is a unique athlete. They don’t make too many kids like Kai Lewis,” head coach Josh Jansen said. “… He’s just a really great athlete with a really great arm, and a super strong leader.”
Lewis measures in with ideal size for a quarterback at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He pairs that with elite speed for his position. His 40-yard dash time is in the 4.7s, according to Jansen.
One of Lewis’ traits that has impressed Jansen most is his ability to remain cool under pressure.
“When you’re the quarterback you can never be too high or too low,” Jansen said. “You kind of need to be even-keeled because the guys on the field are going to follow that example. He does that. He won’t let guys get under his skin. If he makes a mistake, he’s good at moving on to the next play. … If he has a great play, he celebrates with his brothers and then it’s the next-play mentality.”
Lewis hasn’t been touted as one of the state’s top signal-callers coming into this season, but he’ll have plenty of chances to join that conversation while facing a challenging schedule in the Northwest Conference.
“It’s crazy that it’s his senior year and there’s not a lot of kids like him, but not a lot of people know who he is,” Jansen said.
Lewis got his first taste of varsity action as a sophomore during the COVID-shortened spring season in 2020. He played just two games but posted impressive numbers, completing 56.1% of his passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. That promising performance vaulted him right into starting competition last season.
During the competition Lewis impressed with his physical tools and steady demeanor, and he quickly showed he could get the timing down for plays in the new offense.
After being named the starter for the team’s Week 1 game against Seattle Prep, Lewis was elated.
“It was really exciting to me and my family,” Lewis said. “It felt really good that coach trusted in me to be the starter, especially over a senior who was a phenomenal quarterback in his own right.”
But that starting job lasted just six quarters. Soon after came a lengthy process to get back on the field.
Lewis said he spent about 15 hours a week rehabbing his injury. He was on crutches until March and was finally able to get back on the field and start throwing then.
“It was a long process,” Lewis said. “I hated it, but I just knew that it was going to make me better and it was necessary for me to get back to doing what I love.”
Jansen said Lewis continued be around the team last season after his injury. During games he’d wear a headset and sit in the press box with coaches. It was a way to get the quarterback “mental reps” as he prepared for his return this season.
“A lot of growth came through that, which could be a blessing in disguise for him,” Jansen said.
The Wildcats are hoping to see a lot of growth overall in their offense this year. Jansen was promoted to head coach in early June of 2021 and made the decision to move to a spread offense. That meant the team had less than three months to get the new scheme down before Week 1.
Murphy was held to 20 points or less in six of nine games last season. Lewis’ injury played a factor in the struggles.
“We had two really good varsity quarterbacks, but their style of play was really different,” Jansen said. “Kai is a really good dual-threat kid and his timing was down. He had been working with the offense more and just running the system pretty well. He was taking what was being given to us instead of trying to throw vertical all the time.
“So I would just say our offensive efficiency went away a little bit. Then, it was also an emotional drain for all the kids to see a guy they look up to go down for the season.”
It was also just the start of unfortunate series of injuries for the Wildcats.
Jansen said Murphy used six different quarterbacks, five different centers and had a four-week span where at least 15 players were out with injury.
In the unforgiving Northwest Conference — which featured a state champion, a state semifinalist and had multiple teams ranked in the 2A top 10 throughout the year — it had all the makings for a tough season.
But that’s just added motivation for the team as it prepares for this season.
“That’s not something Murphy’s known for and it’s not something we want to be known for,” Lewis said of going 3-6. “So this season we’re playing with a chip on our shoulders.”
Much of the Wildcats’ fate in 2022 rests on Lewis and the offense’s shoulders. It may be a lot of pressure for a player that’s palyed essential three-and-a-half varsity games, but Murphy feels its resilient leader is ready to produce a stellar senior campaign.
“The reason I respect that kid so much is him never giving up,” Jansen said. “He’s had multiple chances to where somebody of lesser character could have just thrown their hands up and been ‘woe is me.’ He never had an attitude of self-pity. … Now he’s better than he’s ever been mentally and physically. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”
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