Maryland’s Levern Jacobs has found himself in unfamiliar waters, forced to grow up fast.
Welcome to the club.
The freshman wide receiver began this season on the scout team, advancing to the punt-block unit before injuries – of course, right? – necessitated a promotion. Now the Suitland High School graduate, once ranked the 12th-best football prospect in the state of Maryland and the No. 78 receiver nationally, is backing up Stefon Diggs in the slot, and even earned his first career start two weekends ago against Boston College.
After a prep school season at the Milford Academy, Jacobs enrolled at Maryland this spring. Still trying to balance schoolwork and football, he struggled to run crisp routes and learn the playbook. But Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins both took Jacobs under their wings, teaching him to effectively navigate the burdens of college football.
All season, Dorsey and Boykins kept telling Jacobs that they’ve seen injuries to starters throughout their time with the Terps. “They’ve seen people go down,” Jacobs said. “I’ve just been preparing and getting ready to play.” The irony, then, was that Boykins’s hip/groin injury, which will likely keep him out for the season, paved the way for Jacobs to earn playing time. Against Georgia Tech, he played the entire second half because Dorsey got nicked up.
“I don’t want to sound bad. It’s sad to see everyone go down, especially the seniors, knowing it’s their last go-around and everything,” Jacobs said. “I think [offensive coordinator Mike Locksley] wanted to give me my opportunity. When my name has been called, I think I’ve been capitalizing on some of the situations I’ve been having. He installed a little trust in me, but not too much. I’m still a freshman. It’s forced you to grow up quickly.”
That seems to be a running theme among these Terps. Fifteen true freshmen have played this season, third most in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind Texas and TCU. In the past two weeks, six true freshmen have started on Maryland’s offense, including punter and place kicker.
Until Jacobs got the call he worked on special teams, which gave him a better feel for the game’s speed.
“These dudes aren’t much different from any other time I play football,” he said Tuesday. “I’m still just playing the same sport with the same people. Nothing’s really changed.”
Locksley planned to ease Jacobs into the rotation. Then things snowballed.
He still gets the freshmen jitters on the field, aspiring to become like the even-keeled Dorsey, who alongside Boykins and cornerback Jeremiah Johnson still serves as a mentor, especially as Jacobs’s playing time has spiked. He has just three receptions for 33 yards, including his first career catch, a 19-yarder against North Carolina State.
“They’ll mainly be telling me, when I get in, just make the best of my opportunities,” Jacobs said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”