Many years ago, long before they realized that speed was their ticket into college football, the Jacobs brothers raced. They toed a line, someone said go and they sprinted straight, the purest barometer of hustle. Levern, the older, and Taivon, the younger, legs churning down the grass, always neck and neck.
Usually, Taivon won. He had always been faster, even only just by a hair. Maryland’s freshman wide receiver once clocked a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, a blistering time by any measure. Levern, a sophomore wide receiver at Maryland, was never far behind. His best time clocked in at 4.4 flat.
Saturday afternoon, 40 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from their old racing grounds in Suitland, Levern and Taivon could finally appear together for the first time as fellow Terrapins. Taivon’s knee, surgically repaired and subsequently rehabilitated after a torn ACL suffered last winter, is finally healed. The freshman’s trademark speed is back and he’s finally ready to join his brother.
“I think he’s ready,” Levern said Wednesday. “I don’t know what’s going through his head. He’s been training for it all his life. We both have.”
Maryland freshmen aren’t allowed to speak with reporters until they appear in a game, so Levern handled the both ends of the brotherly mind-set this week. He has five catches for 108 yards this season, including a 48-yard catch-and-scamper at Connecticut that, were it not for a toe stepping out of bounds, would have resulted in his first career touchdown.
“Um, I mean there’s nothing really I can say,” he said. “I was wide open. It was just exciting for me. I was hoping to get into the end zone, which didn’t happen. I’m hoping one comes sooner than later. It helped my team. It put us in a good position to win the game, which is always good.”
Taivon arrived for preseason camp with plenty on his plate. He reneged on his commitment to Ohio State at the last minute, switching to Maryland to stay closer to his newborn daughter, Bailey. Between fatherly obligations, summer school, practices and adjusting to college life, Taivon would have been excused for allowing his mind to wander.
But Levern says his younger brother has acclimated far better than he did three years ago, as one of the nation’s highest-rated prep school players coming out of Milford Academy.
“I think he’s doing pretty good,” Levern said. “Handling it better than I would probably. His transition from high school to college is much better than I was. He’s staying out of trouble, been on top of his schoolwork. I’m proud of him. I know my parents are proud of him, too.”
If both reach the field Saturday against West Virginia in Baltimore, their hearts will swell even larger. A leg injury to Nigel King moved Taivon into the backup spot behind Malcolm Culmer and made Levern the team’s third-best healthy receiver, though he currently backs up Stefon Diggs in the slot.
Coach Randy Edsall praised Taivon’s comeback from knee surgery, which kept him limited to individual drills during the preseason. Last week, he won scout team player of the week, an indication that Taivon might be ready to join his older brother.
“For us, we’re always looking for guys who have the ability to make plays, find ways to get them the ball,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “Having two brothers both playing Division I football is a testament to their parents. Extraordinary athletes, great speed, they’ll both have bright futures.”
Taivon’s arrival presented a different challenge for Levern. He wants to mentor Taivon, but his battles are sometimes more pressing. After all, he’s fighting for snaps, too.
“I feel like it’s always hard to have a younger brother on the team,” Levern said. “I want him to do as best as he can. I want him to make as many plays as he can on the field, but at the same time we’re not kids anymore. I have to focus on myself a little bit, and he knows that, but at the same time critique him and help him out as much as I can while also helping myself.
“It’ll be great to share the field at the same time. Right now I’m just working on me, trying to get myself on the field as much as I can, make as many plays as I can.”
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