Sunday, April 17, 2016

UConn's Levy finds a home at guard

The situation had the potential for disaster.

Rich Levy, the only returning offensive player to start every game in the last two seasons, was going to be replaced at left tackle by redshirt freshman Matt Peart. The decision was made before the team hit the field for the first spring practice and it is the kind of move that could cause an implosion.

Levy, however, was determined not to put his personal goals over the good of the team. Nobody has been more in Peart's corner than Levy but that still left a question about what was going to happen with Levy.

At one point in spring camp he saw some snaps at left guard both with the first and second teams before giving it the old college try to right guard. It wasn't going to be easy as Trey Rutherford began spring ball as the starting right guard and former starting center Brendan Vechery, whose natural position is guard, was also in the mix. Yet, in Saturday's Blue-White Game it was Levy who got the call as the starting right guard.

"It has been an ongoing battle between left and right for me, I finally transitioned to right and I am getting it down," Levy said.

The 6-foot-6, 319-pound Levy is now lining up next to the 6-foot-8, 319-pound Andreas Knappe to form an imposing right side of the offensive line. Peart (6-7, 291 pounds) and Tommy Hopkins (6-6, 316 pounds) seem entrenched on the left side with the return of Ryan Crozier at center giving UConn the potential of having its best line in recent memory.

Levy is not only attempting to make an impact at guard but he is also trying to be a sounding board for Peart.

"In reality, I feel like Matt has a good grip on that position so me moving to what I feel like is my natural position at right guard, it wasn't that much of a big deal, we all just do what we had to do to win," Levy said.

"We felt like he could make plays, he is a great tackle and if I am at guard, if that is going to help us win, let's do it."

Left tackle is the only offensive line position Levy played in high school and college before the start of spring practice. He admits that things tend to happen much quicker at guard and there are more times when he needs to engage defensive players in space which is something that wasn't the case at left tackle.

"You should be a lot more versatile and be able to play more offensive line (positions) in general," Levy said. "I am coaching them as much as I can, coach myself as much as I can, take coaching as much as I can and keep going."

Earlier in spring practice Peart spoke about his ascension to being the No. 1 left tackle and how much Levy has aided in his learning curve.

"Rich, he has been probably my biggest mentor because he has played the position before and has a ton of experience," Peart said. "Every single time I go 'hey, was my foot work good? Was my second step faster? How about my kick step? Was my base too wide?' I am always asking him tiny little minor details because I am trying to get better because he knows so I always go to him for help."

So what advice does Levy give to UConn's new starting left tackle? 

"I told him to just keep calm, you are going to get it, don't get stressed, don't crack just keep level headed," Levy said. "Whenever he has a question, I help him out."

The way Levy has dealt with losing his starting left tackle spot has not been lost on his teammates.

"It is a testament to him," UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. "I think this is his third position this spring so it just shows  he is as an overall linemen to be able to play three different positions and how everybody can accept playing different positions. Our linemen as so diverse that they aren't just stuck to one (position)."

The biggest offensive play in the spring game was a 63-yard touchdown run by Ron Johnson and the play began with Johnson running right, turning the corner, breaking a tackle and breaking free. The video below shows Levy making a block to help spring Johnson.

"He is willing to help the team in any way he can and he is such an amazing leader, vocally and leading by example and to see him to be able to take on different positions and different obstacles throughout his life is amazing," Johnson said. "He is an amazing guy on and off the field.

"Rich being an older guy, he takes guys under his wing, he understands the playbook and makes sure he (shares) that knowledge. He is passing it down, just to listen to him, understand where he is coming from, makes you (realize) everything he is doing is amazing."



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