Dan in Real Life
Posted By Andrew Stover On September 2, 2009 @ 7:30 am In Featured, Football | 16 Comments
Dan LeFevour was at a crossroads four years ago in his first week of training camp.
The freshman quarterback from Downers Grove, Ill., had yet to achieve one thing at Central Michigan University and had yet to adjust. He was facing a strong bout of homesickness, and the internal battle put a large burden on his shoulders.
“I’d say every freshman goes through it,” LeFevour said. “It’s hard to like it at a place if you’re not having any success on the field and, especially during camp, (when) you can’t escape football. It’s football all day.”
He approached Brian Kelly’s office with a firm grasp of his decision.
He wasn’t nervous for what he was about to do. After all, Kelly was not only his head coach, but his position coach, and he saw him every day.
This meeting culminated from a difficult three-day stretch of camp. He made up his mind, and picked his direction.
Dan LeFevour quit the football team.
Kelly, who coached CMU from 2004 to 2006 and now coaches the Cincinnati Bearcats, dealt with similar situations in the past. This was not the first time a freshman walked into his office and conceded his efforts.
“Most of the time, when a guy comes to my office, he’s done,” Kelly said. “He’s ready to go home. I’ve never really, as a head coach going on 19 years, talked somebody out of quitting.”
But Kelly saw past that. LeFevour showcased traits he did not see in other people.
He told his freshman quarterback he would be a captain one day.
“He couldn’t see that, obviously, because he was certainly thinking about other things,” Kelly said. “That meeting and its substance (happened) because I felt so strongly about his ability to be a leader in our program.”
After the meeting, LeFevour called his father, Jack, and told him of his decision.
Jack was at work at the time. The last thing he expected was a call from his youngest of five children who was halting his pursuit toward what he worked so hard to achieve through high school.
“He called me up and he told me he had just quit,” Jack said. “He had just gone into Kelly’s office and quit.”
Getting his son to reconsider and go to the team’s afternoon practice was his only goal. He and his wife, Judy, were making the trek to Mount Pleasant immediately.
Kelly also knew how to handle the situation.
“Coach Kelly said, ‘I’m not going to let you quit in the middle of the day. You have to finish the day out,’” LeFevour said.
With his parents on a four-hour drive to CMU, LeFevour obeyed the wishes of his family and coach. He showed up to practice.
Arriving in Mount Pleasant, Judy said she knew he would be fine if he stayed put for one season. They urged him to be patient and play a year. After the season, if he still felt Division I football was not for him, they would accept his decision.
The trip he and Judy made was the best time investment they could have made. A day later in Chicago, they received a phone call from their son with a simple message. He was going to gut it out.
Making the adjustment
That is not to say things went smoothly after his parents left.
LeFevour still did not know many people. He was out of his comfort zone and had not established himself on campus.
“He truly did have a tough time up there,” Jack said. “He had just left his girlfriend. You could probably count on one hand the number of kids from Illinois at Central Michigan.”
All three of LeFevour’s roommates in Thorpe Hall were from Michigan.
They were redshirted as well, and that allowed them to leave on weekends.
When his roommates left for the weekend or had girlfriends visit, it intensified the nostalgia for life near Chicago. LeFevour was still homesick.
He vividly recalled the weekend of Sept. 17, 2005, when CMU faced Penn State in University Park, Penn. While his team was losing 40-3, he was taking advantage of being redshirted and not traveling with the team.
LeFevour found a ride to East Lansing and got on a train heading home.
“It took like seven hours, but it was worth it,” LeFevour said. “I would go home any minute I actually could.”
Becoming Mr. Relevant
LeFevour began to settle in during the second semester of school.
He said it was clear he would live a life his friends from high school were not.
“You had to make a decision,” LeFevour said. “Am I going to go out Thursday night and then have a workout at 7 a.m.? Probably not.”
But as he began to embrace his role and mesh with teammates, opportunity followed.
Kelly named sophomore quarterback Brian Brunner the starter prior to the August 2006 home opener against Boston College. But a concussion on the third play of the game forced Brunner out.
Suddenly, LeFevour became relevant. And, after a 31-24 loss in which he almost led a stunning comeback, his legacy began.
LeFevour’s 72 yards on 14 rushes against an Atlantic Coast Conference team raised eyebrows. He was quickly labeled a dual-threat quarterback.
The following week, he was awarded his first start against Michigan in Ann Arbor. But this was no Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Big House seats more than 110,000 people. LeFevour was more than nervous.
“It was awful,” he said without hesitation, regarding the pressures of playing in the biggest stadium in America.
Naturally, a glimpse of doubt crept into his head.
“Could I be productive every game? I wouldn’t say I did a great job against Boston College,” LeFevour said, “but I did pretty well for my first time ever playing.”
Michigan’s defense featured future NFL players at nearly every position.
LaMarr Woodley, Alan Branch, Leon Hall, David Harris and Shawn Crable were all on the field, and they all play on Sundays today. LeFevour said it was one of the best defenses he ever played against.
But prior to the Eastern Michigan game on Sept. 23, LeFevour suffered an injury in practice, and the competition with Brunner was on.
Brunner and LeFevour had a complex relationship. Brunner, a year older, had taken LeFevour into his Mount Pleasant house during the first two summers LeFevour was on campus. The two also were roommates when the team was on road trips.
When Brunner excelled against EMU – he earned MAC West Player of the Week honors in a 24-17 overtime victory – it set the stage for the quarterback competition the following week on the road against Kentucky.
Brunner got the start. But things quickly went south for CMU.
After a sequence of misfortunes, Brunner was pulled, despite not being at fault for a number of miscues.
LeFevour entered the game and took advantage of the opportunity. He threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns without turning the ball over in three quarters of action.
Despite a 45-36 loss, the competition was officially over.
“That’s where it was difficult to handle, but that was more of a personal thing,” Brunner said. “It was tough to rationalize (losing the job) in my mind.”
For LeFevour, things seemed easier on the late September night. It felt natural.
“There’s just games you really feel like you’re in the zone, and that was one of them,” LeFevour said. “We were clicking.”
Kelly said both quarterbacks had the ability, but over the year since the meeting in his office, LeFevour’s attitude toward football changed. He was now a confident quarterback. One who, in the eyes of Kelly, was destined to lead CMU.
“His confidence level really to me was the tipping point between the two quarterbacks. They both had the ability to do it, but I just liked the way Dan handled himself,” Kelly said.
Handling the spotlight
In a short time, Dan LeFevour transformed from just another student to a recognizable face. His success brought celebrity status to CMU and, as the accolades piled, so did the media spotlight.
National publications seemingly swarmed to the small rural campus in mid-Michigan. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and USA Today, among others, made LeFevour the most recognizable face at the university.
The energy level surrounding him increased significantly.
Luckily, LeFevour understands the responsibilities that come with exposure.
He said he knows the attention comes with the territory of being a successful quarterback at the Division I level, and after totaling 11,702 total yards from scrimmage in his career, he has the most yardage of all active players, despite a down junior season.
“I realized (people) know me because of one thing and, if I don’t do it well, no one will care,” LeFevour said.
And now, every move is noticed. Whether he is on campus, at a bar or in class, people notice Dan LeFevour.
But he knows to stay above public opinion.
“You just really can’t care what the public opinion is in a sense. Whether that be if you go to a bar and they think, ‘Oh, he’s out partying.’ Maybe I’m not drinking,” LeFevour said. “Maybe I’m just hanging out with some people. Things like that.”
His record is clean and his academics are in check, as indicated by his 3.57 grade point average. LeFevour is just three credits away from graduation.
Now, he is recognized and identified on a regular basis. The No. 13 at CMU is synonymous with the dual-threat quarterback, and he also is on the billboard outside of Comerica Park in downtown Detroit. But LeFevour takes it in stride.
“If we go to a public place or I go somewhere (and I get identified), if it happens, it happens,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh man, poor me. People know who I am.’”
Striving for normalcy
Dan LeFevour is human.
Despite being a recognizable commodity, he is just another student athlete.
He occasionally still plays video games. LeFevour was pleasantly surprised with his 92 rating in NCAA Football 2010, but he claims he has not played the game since he was a 65 or 70 rating.
“I must be pretty good then,” he said, jokingly. “That’s crazy.”
But to his father’s appreciation, LeFevour remains humble through success.
“I think the humility is real, I really do. I think it goes back to his idolization of Walter Payton,” Jack said. “That guy, as a running back, always gave his credit to the offensive line.”
As Judy said, he will likely get the opportunity to play at the next level, which has been his dream since he was in grade school.
Yet, all of it could have been negated by an emotional decision in August 2005 inside Brian Kelly’s office.
“Whether you call it irony or destiny, that’s really what the substance of the meeting was,” Kelly said. “(It allowed) him to see that someday he was going to be a great leader, and obviously that’s worked out.”
If he followed through on his strong stance in Kelly’s office four years ago, he could be doing something else today. He would not receive the hype or scrutiny he embraces today.
“For as long as I live, I’m never going to go to a place like Georgia or Michigan and have 90,000 people hope I get hurt,” LeFevour said. “You have to take that as a positive.”
LeFevour is just a 22-year-old kid who happened to win a Mid-American Conference Championship as a freshman. He has been compared to college greats Vince Young and Tim Tebow. His face is plastered on a 30-by-60 foot billboard overlooking downtown Detroit.
But as abnormal a life he lives, make no mistake, Dan LeFevour is normal.