Another Level

It's been no secret that West Virginia's special teams defense wasn't a strength for the Mountaineers over the last three seasons. Each year, the teams were criticized for allowing opponents to start too close to midfield on a kickoff or return a punt too far down the field.

In that time, WVU lacked a special teams demon so to say – someone who could play an impact like quarterback Geno Smith does on offense or defensive end Bruce Irvin does on defense.

The Mountaineers have found that player year, and it's Cecil Level.

Who is that, you say?

Well, he's a walk-on cornerback that can't make the two-deep depth chart due to solid depth at the position but has already made a name for himself on many of WVU's special teams units.

"You've got to take pride into it even though it's special teams," Level said. "It's not hard to do it, but you just have to have the will to do it."

Level is a transfer from WVU Tech, where he played cornerback for two years, and he's originally from Fayetteville, Ga. Level started for two years at Tech before deciding to make the move to walk-on at WVU.

Two of his coaches at Tech, defensive coordinator Michael Scott and assistant coach John Pennington, actually played at WVU. Scott was a defensive back from 1982-84 who had 121 career tackles and seven career interceptions, and Pennington was a wide receiver from 2001-04 who caught two career touchdowns.

Those two coaches pushed Level to make the transition from Tech to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

"They believed in me. They thought I could play here and make it. So, I just tried my best and walked on," Level said "The belief that my family and my coaching staff had in me helped me think that I could do it."

In each of the team's game this season, Level has been named the special teams award winner – beating out the likes on inside receiver and returner Tavon Austin, who has a kickoff return for a touchdown and was named Rivals.com's best special teams player in the country this week.

Level's being noticed now.

"He was about 15 yards ahead of everybody else on our kickoff team," Holgorsen said last week. "It takes a situation like that to notice things. He ran down on kickoffs about seven times and was clearly playing at a different level than some of the others. When you see a guy do that, you look for other areas to get him on the field and give that kind of effort."

Level, who was told by WVU cornerbacks coach David Lockwood that he would have a chance to play on special teams in Morgantown when Level decided to walk-on, has really thrived in his limited role.

"(Lockwood) said that there was no reason that I couldn't be used on special teams and that I could work hard and work my way up to get out there on the field on defense, and that's what I've been doing so far," Level said. "This is my only chance to get out there and play special teams, so I'm going to take that chance. Anytime that I get to touch the field, I just want to go hard out there and just show them what I can do."

Level has three tackles this season, which is just one short of starting linebacker Doug Rigg. The redshirt junior is playing on kickoff, punt return, kickoff return and is a second-teamer on punt.

"My goal is to keep getting better and keep helping my team out just whatever way I can," he said.


QUOTABLES FROM CECIL LEVEL:


On the differences from WVU Tech to WVU:

It's a lot different from being at Tech, but I like the competition. It makes me want to strive to get better. Here, we are deep we are at cornerback, I don't think we'd be that deep at Tech. So, there's a lot of competition, and everybody wants to get better and wants to get their chance to get on the field, so that's the biggest difference here. Everybody that starts is good, because they work hard. The starters that we have are good, because they worked hard all of their years to get better and we learn from them.


What can you learn from the other cornerbacks, and who has been your biggest mentor?

There's a lot I can learn to try to move up since I'm a walk-on. There's a lot that I can learn from the corners that were here last year and the corners that are here now. Almost every day that we're out there, I learn something new from them. I learned a lot from (Keith) Tandy. He taught me a lot. (Cornerbacks coach David) Lockwood helped me out. He took me one-on-one and got me to learn how to play corner, and what's the difference up here. Watching all the leaders like Brodrick (Jenkins), Brantwon (Bowser) and Lawrence (Smith).


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