Thursday, February 23, 2012
Like father, like coach
By Dave Hooker ESPN RecruitingNation
The Levenberry family is looking for a paternal figure to guide son E.J.'s career. It's found him in Ann Arbor.
E.J. Levenberry Jr. said this week that Michigan is the lead school for his services. The ESPNU 150 Watch List linebacker prospect from Woodbridge (Va.) C.D. Hylton referenced Wolverines coach Brady Hoke as one of the primary reasons why.
"He kind of reminds me of my dad, the way he carries himself," Levenberry said.
At this time, Michigan looks like the frontrunner for E.J. Levenberry.
The comparison is simple. Levenberry's father, Eric Levenberry, is a police officer, and he and Hoke share a fondness for discipline.
"I'm on my son hard, but I give him love also," said the elder Levenberry, adding that he sees the same tendencies in Hoke.
Said E.J.: "Let me tell you about Coach Hoke. He's a family person. He does everything by the book. He cares about each one of his players. ... They're family, and they treat you like how your parents raised you and how they want you to grow up as a man. They're going to give you that tough love, but in the long run, it's going to pay off."
The Levenberrys aren't just basing their assessment of Hoke off their relationship with him, however. They have also done their research, asking Hoke's current and former players about the second-year Michigan coach. The reviews have all been positive.
"When I met him, I thought he was one of the coolest coaches I've ever met," E.J. said. "He might not be the biggest name out there, but he's definitely going to get there."
The Levenberrys see in Hoke a grounded coach with the best of both worlds. He has strong Michigan ties from his assistant coaching days in Ann Arbor, which would seem to make his latest job his last assuming things work out. He's young and energetic, which has boded well on the recruiting trail and on the field.
"That just tells you right there how he's taking Michigan back to where it was," E.J. said.
Hoke isn't the only Wolverines coach to have a strong bond with E.J. Much of the Michigan staff has made the Levenberrys feel wanted, which is a common theme in E.J.'s recruitment.
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"Michigan, they wrote me handwritten letters almost every day," he said. "I call them and they talk to me on the phone for a long period of time. They hit me up on Facebook. Michigan people [fans] hit me up almost every day [on social media].
"Just little things like that show me they're interested."
Levenberry said he plans to wait until January or possibly national signing day to announce his decision. Even with Michigan in the lead, he said he wants to take his time and inspect each school.
He'll take a visit to Southern California and likely Alabama this spring. He'll definitely be in attendance for the Michigan spring game, where he said there's at least a slight possibility he could commit if the trip feels just right.
Yet visits will only mean so much. E.J. seems more concerned about relationships.
The Michigan appreciation signals a change in E.J., who seemed as if he was leaning toward Florida State after a visit to Tallahassee last summer. Make no mistake, the Seminoles are still in the thick of E.J.'s recruitment. Dad is comfortable with either school.
"For me, I don't care which school E.J. chooses right now, Michigan or Florida State, because either of those schools he would attend, I would be happy because I know [Florida State coach] Jimbo [Fisher] is going to take care of his kids, and I know Brady is going to take care of his kids," Eric said. "I know both coaches don't stand for off-the-field foolishness.
"If you want to act a fool and get yourself in trouble and make your family look bad and your school look bad, they're going to send you home."
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Alabama has made a strong push recently as well, led by coach Nick Saban and ace recruiter Lance Thompson. The Crimson Tide's recruitment of E.J. was a bit derailed when former linebacker coach Sal Sunseri, who recruits the mid-Atlantic area, left the Crimson Tide to become defensive coordinator at Tennessee. The Vols were once high on the Levenberrys' list, but they said they haven't heard from Tennessee's coaches in a substantial amount of time.
While the pecking order seems well set, things could certainly change. E.J. is all too aware that the world of college football is always morphing, with coaches constantly leaving for what they perceive as greener pastures.
"They're the leader right now," E.J. said of Michigan, "but I'm keeping my options open because it's a business, and things change every year."
Any school that wants to land Levenberry had better have strict coaches.
"To me it's very important," the elder Levenberry said. "Next to your kid getting a good education ... you want to make sure your kid is in an environment where he understands there are rules in society and there's a price to pay when you don't follow those rules in society.
"I instilled that in my son in my house and I want my son to play for a coach that's going to continue what I started and make sure my son is going to be a productive citizen in society."
Hoke, Fisher and Saban all seem well suited for that.
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.