Lewis commits to Northern Illinois

10-19-2012 -- Satsuma, AL -- Demopolis' Cortez Lewis (15) heads for the corner on his 9-yard TD run against Satsuma. (Michael Clements/The West Alabama Watchman)

10-19-2012 — Satsuma, AL — Demopolis’ Cortez Lewis (15) heads for the corner on his 9-yard TD run against Satsuma. (Michael Clements/The West Alabama Watchman)

Cortez Lewis locked up a Division I opportunity Thursday when he verbally committed to Northern Illinois.

The 6-2, 200-pound Demopolis High receiver spurned offers from Furman and The Citadel among others in his decision to choose the Huskies, a program that showed itself a budding national power last year with a 12-2 campaign and an appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl.

“They were in a BCS game last year and have been very successful over the last 10 or 15 years. It is a very proud football program and we’re excited to have a player committed to a program like Northern Illinois,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said of Lewis’ commitment.

Despite the fact that NIU’s DeKalb, Ill. campus is more than 800 miles from Demopolis, Lewis said he felt right at home in conversations with the coaching staff, making his decision an easy one.

“They came down here during spring ball. They were watching a couple of our players. They happened to see me that day at practice and they told their wide receiver coach about me,” Lewis said. “I always wanted to go somewhere that I feel very welcome and feel very wanted. When they were talking to me and having conversations with me, I felt like it was a family, like it was Demopolis. I didn’t have any second thoughts about it.”

Lewis took over as a regular at the A-Back spot in the Demopolis offense last season. A hybrid slot receiver with rushing and blocking responsibilities mixed in, the A-Back spot allowed Lewis to display his versatility in his first year as a starter.

8-31-2012  -- Tuscaloosa, Ala. --  Cortez Lewis scores the first Demopolis touchdown of the night on an 11 yard reception from Tucker Jones to go ahead of American Christian Academy 6-0.  (Michael Clements /  The West Alabama Watchman)

8-31-2012 — Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Cortez Lewis scores the first Demopolis touchdown of the night on an 11 yard reception from Tucker Jones to go ahead of American Christian Academy 6-0. (Michael Clements / The West Alabama Watchman)

“Cortez has improved every year. Really since May, I think he has figured out that he can be a really good player. I think some of the attention that these college coaches have given them has motivated him. His potential is unlimited. He can be as good as he chooses to be,” Causey said of the senior, who is expected to play slot receiver at Northern Illinois.

“I want to do everything to the best of my ability and help my team to stay focused on one thing and that’s to win ball games,” Lewis said of his goals for his final high school season.

Those goals will likely prove more easily attainable for Lewis now as the battles to cement his football future and get himself in an academic position to do so have largely been won.

“The guys who are getting all the interest right now this early are the guys who are academically qualified at this point. We’ve got some guys who may get the opportunity to play but they’ve still got some work to do academically,” Causey said. “They’re not getting the attention from those schools that some of those other guys are. Any time you can get yourself academically qualified and ready to go, it makes you much more appealing to a college program.”

Lewis echoed his coach’s sentiments as he offered advice to younger players hoping for an opportunity similar to that extended to him by NIU.

“Stay focused. Set a goal for yourself. Make sure you behave in school and keep your grades up. If you want to do something, set a goal and go do it,” Lewis advised.

Lewis becomes the second member of the Demopolis High Class of 2014 to commit to a NCAA Division I football program. Defensive end Tyler Merriweather cemented his intent to sign with Georgia Tech earlier this summer.

Lewis, Merriweather and the rest of the Demopolis Tigers are scheduled to open their regular season at home Friday, Aug. 30 against American Christian Academy.