April 14, 2016
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He comes from a family of military veterans, including his grandfather (Army), father (Marine Corps) and brother (Army). That background has helped University of Virginia wide receiver Andre Levrone adjust easily to a coaching staff that demands accountability from everyone in the program.
“My father, he served four years and was done, so I wasn’t an Army brat or anything, moving around all the time,” Levrone said, “but absolutely he instilled discipline and structure in me at a young age, and there were always consequences to your actions, whether it was good or bad.
“Usually if you did something good, it might just be a pat on the back, nothing too big, but if it was bad, you definitely had repercussions coming your way. But I feel like that just set me up to understand how life works in general, and it definitely works well with this new staff, because that’s their model.”
The 2015 football season was a trying one for Levrone, who missed Virginia’s final 11 games with a back injury. In late November, after a season-ending loss to Virginia Tech, Mike London resigned as the Cavaliers’ head coach, and Levrone weighed the possibility of starting over at another school. But he didn’t rush into a decision.
“I wanted to sit back and see what happened,” Levrone recalled this week.
He liked what he saw. In early December, UVA hired Bronco Mendenhall, who had won 99 games in 11 seasons as BYU’s head coach. Mendenhall assembled a staff that includes Marques Hagans, Levrone’s position coach in 2013, `14 and ’15.
“So once I saw that my coach was going to be retained, and once I saw the new staff and I actually met Coach Mendenhall for the first time,” Levrone said, “I was pretty much like, `Yeah, this is something I want to be a part of it. Absolutely.’ ”
The Wahoos are delighted to have him. At 6-3, 215 pounds, Levrone is a big, fast target on the field, and he’s impressed the new coaching staff.
“I like Andre Levrone a lot,” Mendenhall said.
The feeling is mutual.
“If there’s one word I would use to describe him, it would be fearless,” Levrone said of Mendenhall said. “He never trembles. You never see him waver on anything that he said, regardless of who the player is. They have to pay the toll. You gotta pay the toll to be a part of a squad.
“It just makes you have a great respect for him, because a lot of people can say things and have a great message, but if it’s not backed by action, without the accountability it just goes, it flutters off into the wind.
“You gotta be accountable for your mistakes on the field individually. That’s just something that he’s brought to the table that I’ve noticed immediately. And I have a lot of respect for that, because that’s how I was brought up. So it’s something that resonates with me.”
Levrone, a graduate of Good Counsel High School in Maryland, will be a redshirt junior in the fall. When healthy, Levrone has played well for the Cavaliers. His biggest challenge has been staying healthy.
“I think he’s very talented, a very, very smart kid who picks up things pretty well,” said Hagans, a former UVA standout.
“I think the main thing with him is, can he stay injury-free? Injuries are a part of the game, they’re unfortunate, but if he continues to progress, puts in the work, continues to prepare and stays healthy, I think he can have a really bright future and be a really good player here.”
Levrone missed most of his senior season at Good Counsel after breaking his left tibia and fibula in the team’s opener. After redshirting at Virginia in 2013, he played in 11 games in 2014, with two starts.
He finished that season with 15 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and Levrone earned a starting job in training camp last summer. But he was far from 100 percent. He tried to play through back pain he’d begun experiencing back in May, but “over time it just got worse and worse,” Levrone said.
“I’d been training really hard [in the offseason], trying to get ready for the season with team workouts and doing things on my own, and [Virginia’s medical staff] said I probably just overworked it. It got to the point where I couldn’t practice.”
Even so, Levrone started the Cavaliers’ 2015 opener at UCLA, where he caught two passes for 16 yards. But everything was a struggle for him that day, Levrone said, and when he watches videotape of the game, he doesn’t recognize himself on the field.
“That whole game I was playing hurt,” he said. “I just had to call it there and went ahead and got surgery.”
The operation repaired the problem, and his back now feels great, Levrone said. “So hopefully that’ll continue to carry over,” Hagans said.
Levrone, understandably, is eager to make up for all the time he’s missed. But he’s trying to not lose perspective this spring.
“It’s easy to look out in front of you and say, `I gotta reach, I gotta go get this, I gotta meet these statistical achievements,’ ” Levrone said. “But in this type of offense that we’re running now, that stuff will come.
“I just gotta go one day at a time, just try to remain consistent. Having been out for so long, that’s one thing I really need to work on, just being consistent. I’ll go out there and make great plays, but then I might come back and miss an assignment or something. But the more consistent I can be, the better I’ll fare individually and the more I’ll be able to contribute to the team’s offensive success.”
The Cavaliers’ new offensive coordinator is Robert Anae, who served in that role for Mendenhall at BYU, too. Anae also works with Virginia’s inside receivers. Garett Tujague coaches the offensive linemen, Jason Beck the quarterbacks, and Mark Atuaia the running backs. Tujague, Beck and Atuaia also followed Mendenhall from BYU to UVA.
Levrone is confident the offense will highlight his strengths as a receiver.
“I’m a down-the-field kind of guy,” he said. “I’ve got good speed, and I feel as though that’s the one thing I really bring to the table that’s different from other [receivers]: I can stretch the field, I can take the top off of the defense. And just to see the way that things have opened up for me this spring, based off of play design, is very interesting.”
The Cavaliers’ top wideout last season was Canaan Severin, who caught 54 passes for 759 yards and eight touchdowns. Severin, who was a senior in 2015, became renowned for his work ethic and dedication, much like two other receivers Hagans has coached at UVA: Darius Jennings and Miles Gooch.
“Those three guys really embody what it means to take care of your body and do all the things necessary to be the best player on this level, and I think Canaan has rubbed off on [Virginia’s receiving corps],” Hagans said. “He did a really good job in his time here, being a leader and setting the blueprint of how to work and go about taking care of your body.”
The turning point in Severin’s college career came after his underwhelming 2013 season.
“That offseason we put in a lot of work together,” Levrone said. “There were a lot of Friday nights where other people were going out, where we would be in the indoor facility, and we had a lot of good times, just working out together.
“And it was always great to see him make plays. Even when I was hurt last year, I told him I was living vicariously through him, because he was doing a lot of stuff that I wish I could have been able to do on that field. And for that to be somebody that you were close to and that you had shed sweat and blood and tears with before, it’s a good feeling to see them succeeding.”
Hagans said he’s seen an increased sense of urgency from Levrone this year.
“I think he’s working harder,” Hagans said. “He looks like he’s making up for lost time. I think as you get older and years go by, you start to realize that you’re on the back nine now. With more guys coming in and you’re getting older, you start to realize that window’s closing. I think a little bit of all that contributes to where he is now.”
Levrone, who rooms with offensive tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju, is one of four Good Counsel graduates on Virginia’s roster, along with tight end Brendan Marshall and cornerbacks Kirk Garner and Myles Robinson.
A media studies major, Levrone said his experience at UVA has been a positive one. He’s close with his academic advisor, former Virginia wideout Maurice Covington, and they’ve discussed potential summer internships for Levrone.
“These last few semesters, I’ve been opening myself up to a lot more opportunities,” Levrone said. “UVA has a lot to offer outside of sports as well, and I feel as though I need to take advantage of those things. [Recently] I have been more into the whole networking thing and just trying to build relationships, because those things are very important when football ends.”