ORONO — It has become increasingly difficult in recent years for instate football players to earn significant playing time at the University of Maine.
Playing in the nation’s most demanding Football Championship Subdivision conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, competition for time on the field is fierce.
Levi Ervin of Lisbon Falls has overcome those obstacles.
Despite playing Class C football, albeit for a highly competitive Lisbon High School program, he has had a productive career for coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears.
The versatile Ervin is likely to see time both at the rover (linebacker) spot and on special teams today when UMaine entertains defending FCS national champion Villanova in a noon homecoming contest on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
Ervin is blessed with good size. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he is capable of delivering hard shots on the field.
He has played in six games this season, including two starts at linebacker, making 16 tackles.
“He’s a very fine young man who has given us his all,” Cosgrove said. “I think he’s maximized his abilities, really had a very positive impact on his teammates in everything that he’s asked to do — on the field, off the field, in the meeting room, in the classroom.”
What sets him apart, however, is his commitment to improvement, which is fueled by a tireless work ethic.
Ervin grew up exposed to family members who showed him the value of putting in an honest day’s work — without complaints.
His paternal grandparents are farmers, while his mother’s father is a Maine woodsman. For several years as a youngster, he spent four or five weeks each summer working on his grandparents’ cattle farm in Tennessee.
“He’s the best example that we can provide of a guy from a small program in the state of Maine who had a goal to come here, took the opportunity, worked at it, persevered with it,” Cosgrove said.
“He’s really invested in the things that we can provide for his growth,” he added.
Ervin credits his high school coaches at Lisbon with helping him develop a toughness that has served him well at UMaine.
“It’s the way I was coached and the mentality of our town,” Ervin said. “We were hardworking guys who didn’t take crap from anybody.”
Ervin also had to grow up a little quicker than some boys. When he was 10, his father Martin died of lung cancer.
“It was definitely hard going through something like that,” he admitted.
One offshoot of the experience was gaining a deeper appreciation for his mother Julia, who wound up raising him and his older sister by herself.
Rather than become mired in grief, she demonstrated a resilience and fortitude that has been adopted by her son.
“She’s a tough, gritty lady,” Ervin said. “She gets it done. Any kind of challenge she’s ever faced, she always says, ‘there’s a way.'”
“It was tough, but everything worked out,” he added. “You have to work hard, persevere and keep going.”
Ervin has experienced some setbacks during his UMaine career. He played in only three games as a sophomore when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that kept him out the remainder of the season.
Last fall, he suffered concussion in the Syracuse game and wound up missing the next two contests.
While Ervin has been a backup linebacker most of his career, he has been a top performer on UMaine’s special teams. He is a key member of the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units.
“Levi is a steady guy on the special teams, very reliable; (it’s) very important to him,” said UMaine special teams coordinator Kevin Cahill. “He’s in some pretty important spots.
“He and Ryan McCrossan and Jeremy Kelley, those seniors have really embraced being leaders on special teams.”
Ervin enjoys the all-out energy and hard-hitting action of special teams.
“It’s a part of the game where you can pin your ears back. You’re just looking to go down the field and light somebody up,” he explained.
Ervin will graduate in December with a degree in business administration. He’s not worried about what may lie ahead.
“There’s going to be a job for you as long as you want to go and get it,” Ervin said, demonstrating the confidence he has developed growing up and playing football in Maine.