Chaney standout Hewlett eager for senior season after injury in 2021
YOUNGSTOWN — It’s a fairly cool and breezy early evening behind Chaney High School on the city’s West Side.
It may be August, but it feels like mid-September. The aura of football in the air helps fuel the fall aesthetic. Cowboys senior Jason Hewlett is vocal on the grass field, helping out sophomore quarterback Matt Jones, while also working with assistant coach Darien Townsend and Toledo-bound wide-out DJ Waller.
Hewlett will be donning the red and black of the Cincinnati Bearcats this time next fall, a Division I program that’s become a national powerhouse in recent years under the direction of head coach Luke Fickell, an old assistant to Jim Tressel.
It was also around this time last year when Hewlett saw a possibility that it could have been all over.
During the first quarter of Chaney’s week one contest at Austintown-Fitch in 2021, Hewlett went down with a broken fibula. In an almost silent Falcons Stadium, Hewlett’s junior campaign concluded in the first seven or so minutes of game time.
Hewlett was surrounded by members from both teams when he was loaded onto the cart. Some Cowboys cried as they walked back toward the visitor sideline.
It’s easy to see the impact Hewlett has had on his peers. Now it’s time to hit the gridiron again, and he’s more than ready to represent his school for one last season.
“The recovery process was hard, but good thing I got great teammates and great family that kept my spirits up. I got low a lot, but they kept picking me up,” Hewlett said, adding that it was painful to even sleep at night at times. “At first I couldn’t leave the house for two weeks, so it was a lot of depression, but they all came to visit me and kept my head up.”
In the weeks following the injury, his father, Jason Sr., and older brother Jaylen, kept him company as he processed everything. Senior played for the Rayen Tigers, and Jaylen suited up for Youngstown State in recent memory. He also credits his mother Shilamar Jackson and his athletic trainer Dylan for helping him.
Hewlett was afraid all of his offers could be taken away. In the weeks following the injury, the Bearcats staff kept in touch, checking up on the Chaney strong safety. It was that thoughtfulness and love that made Hewlett’s college choice clear.
“They kept my spirits up, too. I saw the family vibe there, and I saw they really loved me for who I am and not just a player on the field,” Hewlett said.
Chaney head coach Seth Antram and Hewlett go a long way back. Antram remembers when DeShawn Petrosky went down to an injury in 2020, leading to Hewlett having to be the next “man up,” making his first start at quarterback versus Canfield.
Ironically, Hewlett’s nickname is “Man,” a moniker he’s had nearly all of his football career, but it’s his spoken actions that Antram finds more invaluable than his physical ability.
“There’s just not a kid on the team that doesn’t respond to him. He’s not the only one we have like that, but he’s definitely one of the more vocal ones leading in the right direction,” Antram said. “He knows the jitters, the mental obstacles, he knows his physical varsity football is and everything that’s going on in your head as a quarterback, so he can really relate to Matt.”
“Matt will lean on J, and there are times when J will lean on Matt. It’s definitely nothing but productive for us, but it’s great. He takes a bunch of these guys under the wing.”
Not willing to take anything for granted, Hewlett felt great the first time he stepped on a football field after the rehab process, and described it as “exciting.”
In fact, he feels like adversity is sometimes needed to bring out the best in an athlete.
“I always had the physical gifts, and I always had the ability to play football, but I never had my mind right,” Hewlett said. “Sitting out of football made me realize that you got to get good grades, you got to do all that. You got to do the little stuff and the little stuff matters. Personally, I feel like I needed that setback just to get everything right because I wouldn’t have made it as far as I am now without that setback.”
In less than 48 hours, Chaney will take the field at Dave Pavlansky Field in Poland to battle the Bulldogs. Looking forward to the chance to make big receptions with Waller at his side, there’s one feeling on the gridiron that stands out just a hair more for the Cowboys standout.
The adrenaline rush moments before a tackle.
“Man, it just feels exciting. You just blackout for a second, you make the hit, you pop up, you see the crowd going crazy, you just love it,” Hewlett said with a big smile. “The teammates jumping on you, ain’t no better feeling.
“We got a great fan base, the whole (city of) Youngstown loves us. We’ve been underdogs our whole life, so we’re just being humble, and we’re going to show everybody who we really are this year.”