BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS
Sometimes it’s about ‘wide-lefts’, ‘wide-rights’ and shanks. Other times it’s about splitting the uprights, touchbacks and game-winning field goals.
Welcome to the world of Division One place kickers, and specifically Brendon Levengood’s journey, the last five years of which have been spent at the University of Massachusetts. And perhaps one of the greatest lessons Levengood has learned during his time there is that life in the ‘real world’ is pretty much going to be more of the same.
Yes, Levengood, a 2009 graduate of Cedar Crest, has experienced highs and lows, personal triumphs and setbacks, as a kicker for the Minutemen. But Levengood enjoyed probably one of his greatest highs last week – Saturday November 2nd during a 63-19 loss to Northern Illinois – when he converted all four of his field goal attempts, every one of which came from 40 yards or longer.
Levengood, a fifth-year senior, connected on attempts of 42, a career-long 46, 44 and 40 yards. In addition to tying a UMass record for made field goals in a game, Levengood received three individual honors, including Mid-American Conference East Division Special Teams Player of the Week.
Currently the Minutemen are 1-8 on the season, with three games remaining.
“I was obviously excited,” said Levengood, by phone from Amherst, MA. “That’s why I came to school here. Plus I was nervous at the same time. When I got into the game and kicked the first one, the adrenalin was pumping.
“The first one was 42, and I banged that,” continued Levengood. “On the second drive, it was a 46-yarder and when I looked up, the ball was going through (the goal posts) on that one as well. I was feeling good that day. The snaps and holds were great. Fortunately for me, every time I looked up they were going through (the uprights).”
But Levengood’s field-goal attempts were also his first in 13 months. Relegated to kick-off chores only – he has averaged nearly 60 yards a kick with six touchbacks – Levengood had been behind Blake Lucas, who made just three-of-his attempts this season.
“He was struggling a little bit and missed a late field goal in the Western Michigan game,” said Levengood of Lucas. “The next week, coach came to me and said it was an open competition. I kicked well during the week and coach told me to get mentally prepared for the game.
“Starting out, we competed during camp,” Levengood added. “Blake did a good job and they stayed with him. I was given the job of kick-offs. But when I got my chance (to kick field goals), I took advantage of it.”
Before initially losing the job to Lucas, Levengood had made eight of 12 field goal attempts over the previous three seasons. He is now 12 of 16 for his career, a success rate of 75 percent.
“Going into the season, I figured, ‘this is my last chance at playing college ball,'” said Levengood, a psychology major. “I just worked hard and tried to focus on field goals, knowing down the road at any time I could get an opportunity.
“I would say my range is probably in the mid to low 50s,” Levengood continued. “It depends on what the wind is doing and the weather conditions. Yeah, coach does have that confidence in me. On Saturday he told me if we had a shot at 50, he would send me in there.”
While Levengood certainly has endured his good and bad times over the last five seasons at UMass, one gets the distinct impression he rarely questions his decision to matriculate there, even knowing what he knows now.
“It’s been up and down,” said the 6-1, 197-pound Levengood. “Kicking is a tough road. If you’re making them, you’re in the game. If not, you’re on the sidelines. They’re always bringing guys into compete. You just have to stay positive and hope your time will come.
“I’ve got to finish strong,” added Levengood. “I had my excitement for that day. Now I have to go back to working hard. I want to go out there and be consistent, and give the team faith in me. They work hard all game to get into field goal position. My job is to make kicks.”
Levengood went to UMass out of Cedar Crest as a preferred walk-on, with no guarantee of earning a scholarship. But after his first season, he had 40 percent of his college expenses picked up by the school, a percentage that increased to 75 and then 100.
“It was awesome,” said Levengood of the day he learned he had earned his scholarship. “I called my mom because it was a huge relief. Coming out of Cedar Crest, UMass was my only real option. During my junior season at Cedar Crest, I got hurt and didn’t kick a lot. Colleges wanted to see big stats and see productivity. UMass was the only school to offer me a preferred a walk-on status. I knew the more I performed the more I would play.
“I had some individual lessons, went to some kicking clinics and kicking camps when I was in high school,” Levengood added. “And they told me, ‘you have the potential to earn a scholarship.’ Kicking is a lot of technique. It’s a whole mental position. You’ve got to refine everything.”
Growing up in Lebanon, Levengood got his kicks out of soccer. That was until his sophomore year at CCHS.
“I always played soccer growing up,” Levengood. “I was in the ninth grade at Cedar Crest and the senior goalkeeper was also kicking football. I thought to myself, ‘I think it would be cool to do that.’ I thought it would be something I should look into. When I tried it, I was pretty good at it and it stuck. Then all of a sudden I was getting recruitment letters.”
Place-kicking has become so ingrained in Levengood that it may be difficult to give it up when the time comes.
“It has fulfilled all my expectations,” said Levengood of his experience at UMass. “I finished my degree in four years. This is my fifth year and I’m here playing football, doing an internship and taking courses that allow me to play.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Levengood concluded. “Not really sure. I’ll see. Maybe I can get into some (professional) combines. Employment-wise, I need to start looking into jobs.”