By Cam Huffman
Cecil Level’s path to Morgantown was a little different than that of his teammates on the West Virginia University defense.
While guys like Darwin Cook, Karl Joseph and Pat Miller were able to walk the red carpet on their way to WVU, as coaches pulled out all the stops trying to recruit them to choose the Mountaineers, Level’s trip to the Mountain State actually began in Montgomery.
After finishing his senior year for coach Tommy Web at Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, Ga., ending up with an 11-1 record in 2007, Level was left searching for a place to continue his career. The offers from the SEC, Big 12 and Big East — and the MAC and Conference USA, for that matter — just never came, but he did receive some interest from Division II WVU Tech, where several players in his area had gone to play football.
So Level, who just wanted to find a place to play, committed to play for the Golden Bears.
Level started at cornerback for WVU Tech as a freshman, finishing with 44 tackles and an interception, and a year later he ranked No. 6 in the WVIAC in tackles, finishing the year with 65.
His assistant coaches — Michael Scott and John Pennington — knew a thing or two about Division I football, after playing for the Mountaineers, and they saw something they recognized in the 5-foot-10 defensive back — Division I talent.
On his coaches’ recommendation, Level made the decision to transfer to WVU in an attempt to play at the highest level.
“They basically believed in me and said I had a chance to play at the Division I level, and that I should try and walk on,” said Level. “So I made that jump to come here.
“I had aspirations of playing at the Division I level. While playing in high school, everyone believes they are going to play Division I. I just had the coaches there that saw something and believed in me and thought that I could play at this level.”
He sat out the 2010 season to meet eligibility requirements, twice winning scout team defensive honors that season, before suiting up as a walk-on in 2011.
Playing primarily on special teams, Level saw the field in all 13 games as a redshirt-junior, finishing the season with 11 tackles and winning the WVU special teams champion award twice.
“Being on special teams was great,” said Level. “Just starting off and making my way in, I was doing what I could to help the team and make plays on special teams from every standpoint out there.”
WVU’s coaches were starting to see something special in Level, and he was awarded a scholarship in August for his hard work.
He began his senior season back on special teams, recording five tackles through the first six games, but when head coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest decided the Mountaineers needed a change at safety, they knew just where to look.
Level made the move from cornerback to safety almost seamlessly, and he found out Tuesday of last week that he would be getting the start at home against TCU.
“The first time going out there was just amazing,” he said. “I finally got my chance to show the coaches, fans and the media what I could do.”
His performance didn’t disappoint. Level ended the game with four solo tackles and an assisted tackle, and he also forced a fumble.
“I thought I played well as a first-time starter,” said Level. “I give a lot of effort and do what I can to help the defense and the team win.”
That didn’t happen Saturday, but based on Level’s play, he’ll have more opportunities.
“It’s disappointing,” he said of the Mountaineers’ three straight losses. “But we just have to keep moving and working.”
So far that formula has proven more than successful for Level, whose Cinderella story isn’t over yet.
— E-mail: chuffman@ register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.