Gray clouds hung low in the sky over Faurot Field, occasionally releasing a light drizzle of rain upon the anxious crowd packing the stands. Despite the gloomy weather, thousands of football fans cheered on Missouri as they played against Georgia in the sixth game of the 2014 season.

One of those fans was an 18-year-old high school senior from Birmingham, Alabama. He was in town for a college visit. By the end of the game he’d decided to attend Mizzou.

“It was the people, the energy, it just felt like home right away,” Alec Lewis said.

This is a picture of Alec Lewis interviewing Mizzou offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton during football practice

Alec Lewis interviews Mizzou offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton during football practice. Photo Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics.

This weekend Lewis will watch Missouri play Georgia again, but now he’ll be watching from the press box. Lewis writes about the football team for The Athletic. The hyper-local sports website and app has become one of the biggest sports media companies in the country since launching in January 2016.

Lewis has also written for Yahoo! Sports, the Columbia Missourian, the Kansas City Star, the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

For a kid who grew up in the college football capital of the world, becoming a sports journalist was a natural progression.

“In Birmingham, football is everything. It’s the conversation at school, work, church, the grocery store, everywhere you go,” Lewis said.

He got his start by covering the high school basketball team. Tweeting out scores for people in town helped him gain a following in the community. Lewis’ lucky break came when the team won their first state championship the same season he started covering them. It got him in the door at Birmingham News while still in high school.

By Lewis’ senior year, he was writing weekly stories for the city newspaper. He was equally enterprising at Mizzou. He reached out to the sports editor of The Maneater, the student newspaper, in the summer before college. When he arrived in August, Lewis was already well connected. He took advantage of every invitation he got.

When Lewis was a freshman, Wright Thompson, senior writer for ESPN Magazine, came to town. An older student invited him to dinner with Thompson at Booches, a local Columbia burger joint. It was the only invitation he considered declining.

“I definitely wanted to meet him,” Lewis said. “But I just respected Wright so much I got nervous.”

A friend offered to drop him off at Booches. When the car pulled up, Lewis froze. He didn’t move from the passenger seat. His friend finally snapped him out of it.

“He told me ‘Alec, you came here for things like this. So if you don’t get out of the car then what are you doing here?’ After he said that I jumped out and went in to meet Wright,” Lewis said.

Lewis left Booches later that night with Wright’s email and a promise to keep in contact. In the three years since, Wright became one of Lewis’ most significant mentors.

"It’s been a treat to watch Alec develop into such a talented journalist,” Thompson said. “The Missouri School of Journalism demands that those who have come before help send the elevator back down to the next generation. Alec will certainly take an interest in future students just like how so many alumni have taken an interest in him."

For Lewis’ professors and mentors, his success is not a surprise. It’s the result of an effective learning environment, one that relies on experience as the best teaching tool.

“The Missouri Method provides our students with practical, hands-on training in real-world, community-facing newsrooms and strategic communication agencies,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School of Journalism. “The skills and experience they acquire here equate to a year or more of professional experience by the time they graduate, providing a competitive advantage in the job market.”

Lewis plans to finish off college the same way he started it, taking every opportunity that comes his way.