Tuesday, September 30, 2008
As he stood on the perimeter of the school's football stadium one afternoon last week, Matt Levasseur looked like the rest of the "naps" -- newly assigned personnel -- at Massanutten Military Academy. He fidgeted slightly and nervously flashed a toothy grin at classmates as they waited their turn to participate in parade practice while older cadets marched on the grassy field adjacent to Route 11, the main thoroughfare through this small Shenandoah Valley town.
But considering the path the 14-year-old Levasseur took to get to this place, where he is an eighth-grader and a quarterback for the school's football team, he is far different from the other students here. His odyssey from his home town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, to this 109-year-old military school offers an example of the value placed on specialized youth athletic training.
Levasseur has a personal trainer and a private football coach. He has traveled to California three times this year to work with another quarterback tutor. He repeated seventh grade in part to better compete for a college football scholarship. And he came to this boarding school more than eight hours from home -- one not particularly noted for its football program -- for the opportunity to line up under center against varsity competition as a middle school student.
"For Matthew, it seems like a natural thing," said his mom, Trisha, who most weekends this fall has made the 400-mile trip each way to watch Matt play. "Would I have done it for anything other than football? No, because there are lots of great schools in Canada. There is no issue about education or anything like that. But it's his dream."
Levasseur has started just one high school game -- finishing with more bumps and bruises than touchdown passes -- but he already is well known in his home country. A reporter who wrote one of the many articles about Levasseur that have appeared in Canadian newspapers suffered a broken finger while playing catch with the youngster. This afternoon, Levasseur and Massanutten Coach Rich Chiarolanzio are driving more than nine hours to Toronto for a Wednesday guest spot on Canada AM, a popular morning show on the CTV television network.
"I thought it would be hard to leave my mom and my stepdad, but otherwise I thought it was the right decision," Levasseur said of his enrollment at Massanutten. "It was [hard] at first, but now I'm used to it."
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The plan started taking hold four years ago. Levasseur had experience running three paper routes six days a week, but he had played one season of organized football at the time. "I was a short, pudgy kid," he said. "They wanted me to play linebacker, but I couldn't run or tackle, so they said to go play lineman."
Levasseur would play catch with his older stepbrother, Justin Keith, and never made a secret of his yearning to play quarterback. One day, Trisha saw an ad online for a quarterback camp in Hamilton, Ontario, run by former Florida State quarterback Danny McManus. It was for high school players, so Trisha asked her son if he wanted to drive an hour in hope of being allowed to participate.
"I told him, 'Don't cry in the car if they tell you that you can't come, okay?' " said Trisha, whose ex-husband, Denis Levasseur, is a devoted football follower.