Andre Levrone knows the rap. Million dollar look, discount store production.
Like it or not, that’s the narrative attached to Levrone. Unfortunately, injuries have dogged the career of the fifth-year senior. Every season includes a line about how he missed a game or games due to injury. The worst year, 2015, saw Levrone sit the final 11 games of the season.
So he hears the question any time the media requests him after a practice. Sometimes more than once in the session. If he clicks on any number of preseason outlooks, if his name makes the blurb at all, a phrase similar to “oft-injured” likely would be attached to his name.
”It can become taxing, but at the end of the day I just remain faithful to God and I just continue to have patience,” Levrone said. ”I just continue to work. That’s all I can do.”
That Levrone continues to draw intrigue is a tribute to the million dollar look. He’s listed at 6’3” and 225 pounds. He’s chiseled and balanced. As reporters like to say to him: that’s an NFL body.
He’s also got high level speed. That’s why Levrone’s name will come up in any conversations about fastest players on the offense. In one session of speed testing with the team, he topped the charts. He gobbles up yards with long strides and can be on top of defensive backs before they’re ready to swivel and run. Plus, he can leap too. Jumpballs are always in play.
Much of that was evident in his collegiate debut against then No. 7 UCLA at Scott Stadium in 2014. That’s the game where Matt Johns entered at quarterback late in the half, tossed up a couple of sideline streaks in Levrone’s direction and became a folk hero of sorts. Levrone finished with three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in that game.
So yes, Levrone says he “absolutely” can stretch the field and “Go long!” belongs in his arsenal.
”People always allude to the deep threat thing,” Levrone said. ”I came out with like 22.3 miles per hour so I was the fastest that we clocked on that week. Obviously, there’s speed there. Coming from a guy that’s 225 pounds, I can run. I’m not afraid to say that. I definitely can stretch the field, but there’s a lot more that I can do for our team as well.”
”I can take slants to the house. I can run intermediate routes,” Levrone also said. ”I’m confident that I’m an all-around receiver. I feel like I can run any route in the tree. Whatever the coaches need me to do, I feel like I can go block, I can seal the edge. It just has to be done consistently and I’m looking forward to the opportunities in this camp to showcase that I can do it consistently.”
The flashes of those other things still appear in practices. A slant here an out there. A broken play turned into a big gain. It’s enticing stuff.
The bright moments just haven’t made it game day very often. After those three catches in his debut, he’s made just 22 more over the next three years with most of those coming in the rest of 2014. He caught 10 passes the past two seasons, including just eight for 126 yards a year ago in Bronco Mendenhall’s debut season. The only other touchdown came against No. 2 Florida State.
Mendenhall’s tone on the receiving corps including Levrone has settled into a familiar three-word refrain that Levrone himself recited recently. Be durable, consistent, and productive. His teammates anticipate the type of impact Levrone could make with those three adjectives.
”He can block. He’s just a big body, he’s a presence,” fellow receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said. ”You have to account for him when he’s on the field and if you don’t, he’ll make you pay.”
”He’s fast, he’s big, he’s strong,” UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert said. “He’s like 225 as a receiver so he’s a guy that not many people should be able to cover. He’s got the ability to go up and get it and we have guys like Doni [Dowling] and Warren [Craft] and Hasise [Dubois] that can do that too, but having that little bit different of a freakish athlete is good to have.”
For his part, Levrone has dialed in on time away from the field as part of the equation. That’s where Director of Football Performance Frank Wintrich, Assistant Athletics Director for Sports Medicine Kelli Pugh, and assistant athletic trainer Keith Thomson come in among others. Levrone is “in the cold tub religiously,” stretching every night, taking advantage of massage and chiropractor opportunities, and more.
That’s an effort to translate all that potential to game day, to move from the discount store to designer aisle when it comes to production. Levrone believes he’s developed as a receiver under coach Marques Hagans, taking part of his wisdom from his stint with the St. Louis Rams and receivers from the Greatest Show on Turf Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. He’s tried to improve some of the nuances and polish needed to be a great receiver.
At this point, Levrone’s not only chiseled, he’s grizzled when it comes to college football, a long distance covered from when he arrived from Good Counsel as one of the top rated players in Maryland. That sets the stage for his final year in Charlottesville for a player and a team that he insists are all hungry to turn the program around.
”I’ve been talking to a lot of people: maturity and humility go hand in hand,” Levrone said. ”You come in and you think you know everything. I’m coming from a really good program in Good Counsel in high school, playing with a lot of great players, and I’m coming in thinking I’ve seen a lot when it comes to football but the people that were here had seen a whole lot more than I had. Each year, you humble yourself a little bit as you continue to mature as a man and you take heed to all the advice you receive.”