A walk-on from Vermont defies odds at Miami

Posted Nov. 22, 2011, at 9:41 p.m.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miles Levine’s college football career will likely end with this for a stat line: One game, one play, no tackles.

It sounds like he accomplished nothing.

In this case, the numbers are quite deceiving.

Levine is a walk-on linebacker for Miami, and he’ll be part of a group of seniors and graduate students honored Friday before their final game as Hurricanes. Most fans probably don’t know his name, nor his story — which includes him avoiding sugar, white flour and alcohol for two years, hitting the gym for upwards of three hours a day, living on protein and sweet potatoes, and pushing his truck around parking lots to squeeze in some extra workouts.

All for one play.

And for Levine, it was enough.

“I came here for one reason,” Levine said. “I came here to make everyone back at home proud.”

That’s another part of the Levine tale.

He comes from East Montpelier, Vt., where he was a three-sport athlete at U-32 High School. Football, however, was not one of those three sports. He was a soccer standout, a lacrosse star and decided to play hockey as well. When he enrolled at the University of Vermont, Levine decided to try to play for the school’s club football team, since that was all the Catamounts offered.

Football turned out to be his calling.

He played defensive tackle and defensive end, and eventually joined a semi-pro team called the Vermont Ice Storm — a club that faces regional rivals like the Plattsburgh North Stars and the Watertown Red & Black, not quite the likes of Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

Along the way, he decided that he wanted to play in grad school, on a real team — and picked Miami.

“When I think of football, I think of the University of Miami,” Levine said. “The ’80s, the ’90s … they kind of changed football, the way it’s played. And the most important thing was academia to me, since I want to work in the NFL, so I looked at all the best strength and conditioning programs in the country. Miami came right to the top of the list.”

He worked out for hours every day. His grocery bill was about $100 a day. Knowing her son was watching his diet incredibly closely, his mother made him a birthday cake — carrot, even with whole-wheat flour. He put only one crumb of the cake in his mouth, not even tempted to have a teeny slice.

Jan Thouron didn’t really understand all the sacrifice then. She does now.

“Miles is an extremely driven kid,” Thouron said of her son as she drove through Georgia on Tuesday, on her way to Miami for Friday’s senior-day events. “Always has been. And my biggest challenge with bringing him up was to get out of his way. And I just always knew, whatever he decided to do, he would succeed.”

Walking on to the football team at Miami is not easy, of course. Most are players who simply slipped through the recruiting cracks — not guys who never played in high school. And Miami officials believe no one from the state of Vermont ever suited up for the Hurricanes before, either. Levine was undeterred, and grabbed one of the last two available spots.

“He’s been great for us,” Miami linebacker coach Micheal Barrow said. “He’s come in here, worked hard every day, set an example. That’s what he had to do and he’s earned his spot.”

On Nov. 5 against Duke, Miami was on its way to a blowout win. Levine’s number was called late in the game. He got in to help cover a kickoff — meaning he’ll officially go into the books as a Hurricane.

“Awesome,” Levine said afterward. “Never had that much adrenaline in my life.”

His family taped the game and rewound it about 100 times in the moments afterward, watching for the blur of someone running down the field and getting blocked near the edge of the screen.

For the Levine family, it was an unforgettable moment that most people likely didn’t even notice.

“So many people thought this was going to be impossible,” Thouron said. “Well, it wasn’t. Not for him.”

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