A career-ending knee injury set Will Lewis, Jr. on the path to becoming a logistics pro
By Hilary Reeves
Will Lewis, Jr. grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, a town near the state’s southern border well known for its high school football program. And all Lewis wanted to do was play football.
“The Dallas Cowboys were my team growing up,” he laughed. “Actually, being from South Georgia, we were Atlanta Falcons fans first, but they didn’t have the best track record. My dad’s second team was the San Francisco 49ers, and my alternative team was the Cowboys.”
Lewis’ father worked for the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and his mother was an elementary school cafeteria worker. She didn’t want her eldest son on the football field, afraid he would get hurt.
“I was actually kind of forced to be in band, because my mom was so protective,” explained Lewis, who later developed into a talented trumpet-player. “Music was important to me, but football was something I always wanted play. I finally got brave enough to go to football practice without my mom knowing it. When I made the team, I had to break the news to her.”
With his father’s blessing and his mother’s reluctant permission, Lewis began a football career that saw him through college.
“My mom and dad came to every single game – home and away,” he said. “They were always there. I was always learning something new, since I didn’t get a chance to play ball when I was younger.”
Lewis was a starting running back at Valdosta High School with dreams of attending Florida State University (FSU) when he selected to represent South Georgia in the First Inaugural Georgia-Florida High School All Star Game in 1984. There he learned that Sammie Smith, a fellow star running back from Florida, was also planning to attend FSU. At that time, the team’s offensive coordinator had just taken a head coaching position at East Carolina University (ECU).
“He invited me up (to ECU) on a recruiting visit,” Lewis said. “He confirmed that Sammie Smith was going to Florida State, and said, ‘you can go to FSU and play behind him, or you can come here and play against him.’ The camaraderie of the guys there was incredible. They made me feel like family. I decided to go to ECU.”
Lewis began his college football career, attending ECU with a full athletic scholarship.
As a freshman, he started his first college game on national TV against the Miami Hurricanes on Thanksgiving Day in 1986. He ended up starting four years, and became the offensive captain his junior and senior year. Not only did Lewis play football, he also ran track his sophomore, junior, and senior years.
“By my senior year, I had a promising chance,” he said. “I even had an agent.”
However, as fate would have it, Lewis was injured during a game versus the Miami Hurricanes his senior year. He tore is ACL, his MCL, and cracked the bone in his knee.
“Back then, they didn’t have the technology or the surgical techniques to get me back on the field,” he said. “Football was over for me.”
Sammie Smith, meanwhile, went on to be selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 1st Round of the 1989 NFL Draft.
Life after football
Lewis graduated from ECU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Technology, with a concentration in Technical Sales, and a minor in Business. After his college career, Will meet the woman of his dreams and he married her. Will and his wife, Lisa, have two children, Jasmine and Whitney.
“After college, I had no plans to go into trucking at all,” he said. “I wanted to do something in computers. But I ran into a good friend of mine at Homecoming while in college, and he said, ‘you’ve got to get into trucking.’”
Lewis joined Wilson Trucking Corp. immediately after college.
“The company had just launched a new management training program,” he said. “For the first few months, I worked on the dock, loading and unloading cargo. Then they taught me how to drive trucks. I had a route for several months. Then I spent several months exploring different departments, including sales, safety and accounting. It was the best thing for me. I learned all aspects of the business.”
Lewis helped open the Jacksonville, Florida office, but felt somewhat restricted at Wilson.
“Wilson wasn’t quite ready for someone like me to be a terminal manager,” Lewis said. “The owner of Core Carriers noticed that, and offered me more opportunity for growth in their company.”
Lewis went to work for Core Carriers, which was purchased by NFI in 2003. He eventually ascended to Vice President of Transportation. Lewis is now the Vice President of Operations at Shoreside Logistics, an inland transportation and logistics segment of Saltchuk.
“We’re a small part of the Saltchuk family, but when you look at it as a whole, we’re the largest dedicated carrier for TOTE and Tropical,” he said. “We move roughly 2,000 loads every week for TOTE, and 1,500 for Tropical. Because Shoreside drives across the country and up and down the East Coast picking up product, the Caribbean is able to receive their goods.”
Lewis said he takes pride in the fact that Shoreside is one a handful of companies that handles Caribbean-bound cargo.
“The Caribbean islands aren’t producers – they’re consumers,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of everything they use comes from the United States. We pride ourselves on being the inland solution for the Caribbean – now more than ever.”
Lewis’s oldest daughter, Jasmine, works for Amazon and is the mother of his only grandchild, Jayla. His younger daughter, Whitney, is a 17-year-old college-bound high school athlete.
“Whitney’s been a cheerleader since she was eight,” Lewis said.
“When she first started, she couldn’t do a forward roll. I went out, got a couple of mats, and started working with her. When her coaches noticed her improvement, they asked me to be a cheer coach,” he laughed, adding that he proudly coached cheerleading for several years. “I consider it a sport.”
Lewis was inducted into the Valdosta High School Hall of Fame last year, an honor he considers one of his biggest accomplishments.
“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the winning-est high school in the nation,” he said. “That’s a great honor. “Honestly, I don’t regret (my knee injury) one bit. If I’d gone into the NFL, I never would have met my wife and I wouldn’t have my girls.”