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Levy chasing the impossible dream

Ripon High grad aspire to make UCLA’s football team

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Levy chasing the impossible dream

Ripon native Alex Levy, with help from strength-and-conditioning coach Jeremy Byrd, right, is hoping to make the UCLA football team as a walk-on despite minimal experience.

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POSTED June 25, 2010 2:32 a.m.
Alex Levy is a guppy in a big pond at UCLA.

That matters little to both himself and his strength-and-conditioning coach and mentor, Jeremy Byrd, who believes Levy has a chance, no matter how small, to make the storied Pac-10 football program’s football team as a wide receiver.

Levy, a 2009 graduate of Ripon High going into his sophomore year at UCLA, is spending his summer days training with the Bruins with hopes of landing a spot on the squad as a redshirt freshman this fall.

“Alex reminds me of myself,” said Byrd, a former receiver from longtime regional powerhouse Escalon High. “Coming out of Escalon High, a lot of people said that I’ll never play college football.

“Many people have scoffed at Alex and told him the same thing, but he’s out to prove everybody wrong.”

Byrd played NAIA football for Evangel University of Springfield, Mo. and tried making it as a pro in arena football and the NFL. He returned to Evangel to coach wide receivers and helped tutor receivers Missouri State for a short time. He went on to coach Ripon Christian High’s fledgling football team in 2005 and 06.

Byrd’s experience as both player and coach led Levy to ask for his assistance. And he’s needed a lot of help.

Levy played just one year of high school football at Ripon High as a sophomore. He played varsity soccer over his final two years and ran track.

Levy, studying business economics, wanted to stay involved with sports in college and went out for the track program. That didn’t work out, but he still had the itch.

Participation in intramural sports was not the answer.

“Coming from high school sports, I couldn’t just stop all of the sudden,” Levy said. “I wanted to stay involve and keep a busy schedule, and being an NCAA athlete was something I’ve always dreamed of.

“I wanted to play a sport in college, and I didn’t care what it was. I looked at football and figured, ‘Why not give it a chance while I’m here?”

At 6-1, 170 pounds, Levy has work to do on his body. Byrd has helped him develop speed (Levy said he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash) since he was a senior at Ripon and gave him a crash course on route running.

“It’s a challenge because he hadn’t played much football,” Byrd said. “I’ve had so many great coaches teach me how to become a receiver. He’s got the speed, and I think I can pass on the knowledge for him to apply that speed on the football field.”

The first hurdle for Levy to clear was getting a foot in the door.

He met head coach Rick Neuheisel at a UCLA Alumni Club banquet for incoming freshmen and junior-college transfers in Sacramento after graduating from Ripon. They reunited last fall on campus, but it took persistence on Levy’s part for that to happen.

He said he visited Neuheisel’s office a number of times, but the coach wasn’t always available to chat. Levy once waited six hours to talk with him.

“It was a little hard to get a hold of him,” Levy said.

It wasn’t until a chance meeting with Byrd that Neuheisel decided to give the longshot a long shot. In February, Byrd accompanied one of his clients to a 7-on-7 invite-only camp for some of the best high school football players in the West in Las Vegas.

Neuheisel inquired about Byrd’s client, Lodi High star running back Jordan Perkins, who ended up committing to Stanford in April, but the conversation shifted when Byrd dropped Levy’s name.

“Coach Neuheisel told me how persistent Alex was, so he said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give him a chance. Tell him to come see me next week,’” Byrd said.

Neuheisel invited Levy to begin battling for a roster spot during the team’s spring workouts. And on April 25, Levy got to play a few downs on special teams toward the end of UCLA’s annual Spring Game in front of 12,494 fans at the Rose Bowl.

 “I had the time of my life,” Levy said. “I got to go in the locker room that so many great athletes have walked through. Coming out of the tunnel I saw my family in the stands, and just seeing all those people while warming up on the field was an adrenaline rush.”

Levy has since survived a round of cuts and is still working out with the team over the summer while taking a math class.

His summer break wasn’t much of one. After getting out of school on June 9 he spent a week to see friends and family while training with Byrd. Then it was back to early-morning workouts, 7-on-7 drills and team meetings.

Fall camp begins on Aug. 9. No matter what happens beyond that, Levy will forever relish his time, no matter how long that may be, as a UCLA football player.

“Just making it past the Spring Game is an accomplishment,” Levy said. “I was hoping for the best, but I thought tryouts would just be a formality and I’d be cut.

“I’m not sure how it will play out, but all I know is that I’m going to give everything I have.”
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