Leverson catching up to

by Murali Balaji

Luke Leverson isn’t the biggest or the fastest wide receiver in the Big Ten, but he is on his way to becoming one of the best.
The 6-foot, 175-pound junior from Miami leads the team and is currently ranked third in the conference in receptions (38 receptions, 508 yards, 5 touchdowns). Not bad for a guy who entered the season with only 31 career catches.
“I’ve come a long way,” he said of his progress. “Through the summer I worked on conditioning myself in the weight room. I got bigger and faster.
“I knew I had to step up with Tutu (Atwell) and Ryan (Thelwell) gone.”
Leverson’s development into one of the Big Ten’s better receivers hasn’t been much of a surprise to anyone, including coach Glen Mason.
“(Luke) has performed to about where I’ve anticipated,” he said. But Leverson’s road to the upper echelon has not come without its bumps.
Against Penn State, Leverson dropped a first-half pass in the end zone, a potential touchdown that would have kept the Gophers in the game against the Lions.
“I think, to a certain extent, (the dropped catch) brought things into focus for him,” Mason said. “If you’re going to be a top-notch receiver, you can’t do those things. You’ve got to catch the ball and make plays.”
To his credit, Leverson has taken Mason’s criticism to heart. He responded with 12 catches for 108 yards last week against Ohio State, both career highs.
After the game, Buckeye cornerback Ahmed Plummer, one of the best cover men in the nation, was full of praise for Leverson.
“He is really hard to guard one-on-one,” Plummer said. “He had a lot of success against us on outs and hitches, but that just shows how good of a receiver he is.”
As the most experienced member of the team’s receiving corps, Leverson said it was important for him to be a leader to the younger receivers, including converted running back Antoine Henderson and freshman Ron Johnson, who is second on the team for receptions, with 18.
“I think they’ve reacted well to me as a leader,” he said. “I tell them to get wide open, not just open. The other guys have started stepping up.”
But being a rah-rah and vocal leader isn’t Leverson’s style. Rather, he has emerged as a player who leads by example and mentors the younger players through simple instruction, whether it’s on or off the field.
“We’ll be hanging out, and Luke will just start telling me where to get open,” Johnson said. “He’s always telling me what to do to make myself a better player.”
Wide receivers coach Vic Adamle said it was important for the leading pass catcher to share his knowledge with the younger players.
“Luke is the only guy out there with any experience,” Adamle said. “He’s been through it all, and the young guys have received guidance from him.”
Johnson, who credits Leverson with his quick development as a true freshman, agreed.
“Luke has learned that he’s got to be the leader. We hang out a lot, and we’re clicking together right now.”
However, Leverson admitted that chemistry alone won’t make the Gophers receivers an elite class. That next step, he said, will involve their continued physical development.
“(Antoine) and I have got to get bigger, and Ron and I have got to get faster. (Antoine) isn’t getting any bigger, but I think Ron and I have to work on our speed to keep up with him.”