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Prep FB: Cleveland star RB is back to full speed

Cleveland quarterback Jeff Davison, left, hands off to Dorian Lewis during a scrimmage last week. Lewis says he’s full recovered from knee surgery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO — The message from Dorian Lewis to teammate Tres Villalpando was clear.

“Hit me, bro,” Lewis said to him. “Whenever you get a chance, hit me. And he did. And I appreciated him for it.”

This was how it played out at Cleveland High School’s football stadium last week, after Lewis — New Mexico’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the 2018 season — had been officially cleared to return to full contact with the Storm following offseason surgery on his right knee to repair a torn ACL.

This month marks 10 months since he injured the knee, Oct. 25 against West Mesa after a Mustangs defender made contact with Lewis’ knee.

Up until that early-game hit, Lewis had been the state’s most explosive skill-position athlete, having put up nearly 1,600 yards with 20 touchdowns with the Storm in a shade over eight games.

On Dec. 4, three days after Cleveland was whipped 33-14 at home by La Cueva in the Class 6A state championship game, Lewis went under the knife.

Friday, when Oñate visits the Storm in a 2019 opener, marks his official return.

“He looks like he’ll do everything he did last year, maybe be even better,” said Cleveland junior wide receiver Tre Watson. “I think he is determined to go out and have a big year.”

The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Lewis was almost absurdly dynamic for Cleveland through its first eight games last season. But Lewis was forced to watch the end of the year, including that title game, in street clothes.

Would Lewis have made a difference? That’s a question many asked, but no one could answer. Including Lewis, who was quick to credit La Cueva’s stifling defense for quieting what had been the state’s most prolific offense and holding Cleveland to just seven offensive points.

“It was terrible, the worst feeling I’ve had in a while,” he said. “I had to sit back and take it.”

Fast forward to this week, and Lewis is poised to dish it out.

“To me, he looks even better than what he did last year,” Cleveland junior quarterback Jeff Davison said. “He’s anxious to get back out there and put up those kind of (huge) numbers. I think he’s looking fantastic, all of his cuts, all of his routes, all good.”

In Thursday night’s three-way scrimmage against Sandia and Piedra Vista, Lewis broke free for a long touchdown burst up the middle in which he ran away from defenders, a most encouraging sign.

Lewis said he has three official college offers, from New Mexico’s three state Division II schools: Western, Eastern and Highlands.

You can count Storm coach Heath Ridenour among those who aren’t even remotely concerned about how Lewis will perform coming off the ACL.

“Dorian is Dorian,” Ridenour said. “That’s great news for us. Because we all know what Dorian can do.”

Lewis, a sensational combination of speed and power — he is completely willing to lower a shoulder to dole out his own brand of punishment — said he has felt “100 percent” since the six-month mark after his surgery, which would be June. He averaged over 11 yards per carry last season, and was also a presence catching balls out of the backfield.

“I feel quicker, I feel faster … I feel better than I was last season,” Lewis said.

Ridenour said he did not hold back once Lewis got cleared.

“He’s ready to rock,” Ridenour said. “The game was taken from him, and it’s devastating when it happens. You better believe he’s motivated.”

Ridenour doesn’t mind fueling his athlete with his own psychological methods. The coach smiled as he talked about an intrasquad scrimmage last weekend. Lewis expected a nice workload.

He didn’t get it. Ridenour limited him to two carries.

“He was so mad at me,” Ridenour said. “We had a laugh about it.”

Said Davison: “We all saw what Dorian could do last year, and then when he went down … I think he’s more hungry to get back out there and show those doubters that the joke’s on you, that (he’s) just as good, if not better, than last year.”

Lewis jumped into that part of the conversation. As he pondered his comeback, he voiced what sounded like a warning to anyone who believes he’ll be a lesser player.

“A drive to prove people wrong,” Lewis said in a firm voice. “I know people are counting me out.”

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