Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Levine returns to Maryland and to his first love: football

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Magruder graduate Mitch Levine hasn’t been in pads since the fall of 2005, but that should change soon. After spending last year at George Mason (Va.) University on a baseball scholarship, Levine has transferred to Maryland and expects to walk on to the football team on Sept. 4.
Mitch Levine, a 2006 Magruder High graduate, is not one of the 14 Montgomery County natives listed on the University of Maryland’s most up-to-date football roster.

Nor would one expect him to be, since just a year ago, he was beginning his career as a scholarship baseball player at Division I George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. But Levine is enrolled at Maryland this fall, and has spoken to Terrapins coaches about walking on to the football team within the next few weeks.

‘‘Last year was the first fall I didn’t play football, and I just really missed it a lot,” Levine said. ‘‘I love baseball, but I feel like I just can’t live without football. I didn’t like the school that much at George Mason. I have a lot of friends at Maryland, and I’ll get a good education here and have fun.”

Levine earned seven varsity letters at Magruder, four in baseball and three in football. He was the Colonels’ starting quarterback for three seasons, earning All-Gazette honorable-mention status as a junior and senior. In those two seasons, he combined to complete 162 of 361 passes (45 percent) for 2,504 yards and 27 touchdowns, against just 13 interceptions, despite missing virtually all of the first three games of his senior season due to injury.

But baseball seemed to be Levine’s future. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was named to the All-Gazette second team as a junior after hitting .385 with 13 runs batted in and 16 stolen bases. As a senior, he earned All-Gazette first-team recognition for batting .493 with 14 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He also garnered a place in the 2006 Brooks Robinson All-Star Game.

‘‘The reason I went with baseball was because out of high school, I had a bunch of D-I looks,” Levine said. ‘‘My thing was, I wanted to play Division I. But once you’re there, it’s less baseball and more running, lifting and study halls.”

It didn’t help that when the time to play finally arrived, Levine was sidelined with a knee injury. He played in only three games last spring, striking out five times and failing to record a hit in seven at-bats.

Returning from the injury this summer, things didn’t get any better when he joined the Silver-Spring Takoma Thunderbolts of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. In 11 games for the wood-bat franchise, Levine went 0 for 18 with nine strikeouts, and committed four errors in the field.

‘‘I had a lot of things I was thinking about — like whether I wanted to play baseball or not,” Levine said. ‘‘I just didn’t love it anymore.”

That’s when Levine decided to transfer to Maryland and give football another try. Magruder head coach Doug Miller, under whom Levine had his greatest success as a senior, was an offensive lineman and graduate assistant for the Terps in the 1980s under current Maryland head man Ralph Friedgen, who was the offensive line coach at the time.

Levine said Miller and Einstein head coach Mike Bonavia both recommended him to the Maryland staff. In the meantime, all but three of the academic credits he earned at George Mason carried over to Maryland, and he would technically be eligible to play for the Terrapins this season, since the Patriots do not have a football team.

‘‘About one in 10 walk-ons makes it, so I told him that realistically, he probably has a 10-percent chance,” Miller said. ‘‘But I walked on at Maryland and made it, so it can be done. ... Even if he doesn’t ever play, he’ll learn a lot about football for if he ever wants to get into coaching.”

Levine will be eligible to join the Terrapins on Sept. 4, three days after their opening game. He said he had a conversation with the coaches just last week, and expects to get a look both at quarterback and running back.

‘‘I’ll play whatever, I don’t care,” Levine said.

As long as it’s on a football field, Levine will be happy.