Junior E.J. Levenberry's stock soaring
Agents. False reports in the media. Constant harassment.
It's a lot to take in, especially for a 16-year-old.
The constantly accelerating pace of recruiting is no more evident than in the case of E.J. Levenberry, the junior linebacker from C.D. Hylton in Woodbridge, Va., who is on pace to become one of the very elite prospects in the nation.
That's why his father, Eric Levenberry, is about to throttle down the recruitment of his 6-foot-3, 225-pound son.
Coaches will have to hope for what little time on the phone they can get. Reporters won't get to talk recruiting with E.J. until after his junior season. The idea is to let E.J. focus on improving, not take the glory away from his teammates and not get caught up in all the talk about how great he is and can be.
"This type of media attention can make kids think they're more than what they are," Eric Levenberry said.
"It's been kind of crazy but it's a blessing," said E.J. Levenberry. "It's kind of weird getting all this attention so early and still trying to maintain a regular lifestyle with your friends and everything. Now, people everywhere you go -- like at our scrimmage the other night -- people are asking about me. They know who I am now. It's kind of awkward but it's kind of cool at the same time."
The attention has been intense. One national recruiting analyst told the Levenberrys that E.J. would most likely be one of the top five prospects in the nation. Recruiting Web sites seem to report rumor and innuendo, such as the claim that Rutgers and East Carolina had offered E.J. a scholarship even though Eric Levenberry said no one from the family has talked to either school.
However, E.J. Levenberry's humility is evident because he describes himself as average even though most agree he is anything but. When pressed, he finally offers an honest description of his game.
"I feel that something good for me is that I'm tall and have long arms," he said. "Playing the linebacker position outside, that's good for me. Having long arms is good because running backs are all quick and fast. With long arms like that I can easily just tackle somebody out in the open field. I can cover running backs going out of the backfield. [But] I want to work on my speed and my strength. I'm not as fast and as strong as a I need to be."
Then there were the two sports agents who introduced themselves to E.J. That was the final straw, impelling Eric Levenberry to study the NCAA rule book to make sure that his son would never face an eligibility issue.
The elder Levenberry, like many, said he'd like to see the NCAA rulebook boiled down to a simpler version. He'd especially like for the NCAA to lay off of seven-on-seven tournaments and AAU basketball, two competitive arenas that helped E.J. improve. The Levenberrys are taking a hardline to make sure no NCAA rules are broken in their home.
"You've entered a world now where you can't accept anything from anybody unless it's from mommy or daddy, your grandparents or your aunts and uncles," Eric Levenberry said.
The Levenberrys know the recruiting process. They were recruited by several schools two years ago when E.J. was considered one of the top eighth grade prospects in the Washington D.C. area. The Levenberrys chose Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha. As a sophomore last season, E.J. had 72 tackles, eight forced fumbles, five sacks, and two interceptions -- one of which he returned for a touchdown.
The Levenberrys also learned the college football recruiting ropes from the many DeMatha students and families who were being offered scholarships. Even though the Levenberrys transferred E.J. to C.D. Hylton, they didn't forget the lessons they learned at DeMatha, one of which is to lay out exactly what their family wants in a college.
For Eric Levenberry, that was fairly simple: 1. academics 2. compete for a conference title every season. 3. compete for a national title.
E.J. then added one criteria to that list.
"I want to be bonded with the people I'm going to school with, like my freshman class," he said.
Which means that E.J. has already connected with several prospects nationwide, including defensive back Dubios Ross from Bangor (Pa.) Puis X, quarterback Eddie Printz from Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter and tight end Cameron Stapleton from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Poly Prep.
"We're trying to go to school together and do some big things," E.J. said.
That means one of the following schools could receive a huge gift on national signing day in 2013. They all have their individual traits but one in common: all of the schools that E.J. is primarily considering identified him early in the recruiting process, some even as a freshman:
Oklahoma: Eric Levenberry said he feels very comfortable with associate head coach/defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Venables, adding "As a parent, you feel very comfortable sending your son to him."
Florida: Florida rolled out the red carpet for E.J. during an unofficial visit following his freshman year. The facilities in Gainesville are a strong draw. "To see how they showed him that they wanted him and he was just in the ninth grade spoke highly to me," said Eric Levenberry.
Florida State: The Levenberrys haven't visited Tallahassee yet but they've heard great things about the facilities and have already grown close to coach Jimbo Fisher and E.J.'s lead recruiter, Odell Haggins. Eric said he's also fond of how the Seminoles have their facilities set up close together.
Tennessee: The Vols made an early impression with their Vol For Life program that allows athletes to come back to school for free if they don't graduate before their eligibility is up. Since, other schools, namely Florida, have told the Levenberrys it offers similar programs. Still, the Vols made an impression with their overall student-athlete support. "That really spoke volumes to me," said Eric Levenberry. "That said to me that they care about you as a person."
Wherever Butch Davis ends up: Whenever and wherever Davis coaches again, he'll have a shot at E.J. The former North Carolina coach was one of the first to identify E.J. and has a long history of producing NFL players.
Penn State: "A dark horse school is Penn State," said Eric Levenberry. "That's a dark horse school because E.J. wants to play in the South. He doesn't want to play in the cold." Eric Levenberry said he's very fond of the Nittany Lions' coaching staff and how they place a premium on academics.
The Levenberrys also liked Virginia Tech and Michigan but they have slipped substantially. Alabama was a strong pursuer before they seemed to cool on E.J. and as for nearby Maryland, Eric Levenberry said, "I wanted my son to go to Maryland, but after coach [Ralph] Friedgen left, there was no communication whatsoever." Eric Levenberry said there has since been some communication lately with Maryland, but added, "They're trying to get on board but I think it's a little too late."
Too late even though it's still almost 19 months away until E.J. has to sign a letter of intent. Can he really stay humble with all the attention?
"[My dad] doesn't let me get out of line," E.J. said. "He makes me stay humble and stay focused because there's always somebody out there better or working just as hard as you if not more."
Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at email@example.com.