ORONO – The partnership between Levi Ervin and the University of Maine football program was a gamble on both ends.

With nearly 4,000 all-purpose yards and a Class C state championship on his Lisbon High School resume, Ervin would have been an immediate impact offensive or defensive performer for a host of NCAA Division III programs.

At 6-foot-2 and (generously speaking) 190 pounds, Ervin had heftier aspirations.

“Throughout the whole process, I always knew this was the place I wanted to go,” said Ervin, standing near the 50-yard line on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium during the University of Maine’s recent media day. “Now that I’m here, there’s no other place I’d rather be.”

Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove tendered Ervin a partial scholarship in the same way someone might invest in agricultural futures. Much as we love our high school football in these parts, running roughshod over schools of roughly 300 to 350 students didn’t guarantee Ervin a thing in Division I.

“When guys like Levi assert themselves and show us that they can play here, it makes you feel better about your recruiting process,” Cosgrove said. “It’s our job. The most important thing a coach can do is evaluate, and once he has evaluated, to see that he has evaluated properly.”

Cosgrove and his staff were dead-on in their assessment of Ervin, who has refined himself from skinny kid with athletic instincts to a chiseled man capable of starting at any of four defensive positions within a year or two.

Ervin, still only 19 but now 205 pounds, is the Black Bears’ second-team free safety as a redshirt freshman.

“Hopefully (my role is) working hard on special teams and working hard in practice. The guy ahead of me, Jon Calderon, he’s a great player. When I’m needed, I can come in and do what I need to do,” Ervin said.

A running back, receiver and strong safety in high school, Ervin was shuffled to free safety for this year’s spring workouts. Another gamble, considering that Ervin’s intensity in practice as a strong safety made him Maine’s player of the year on its defensive scout team last season.

And since it’s obvious to everyone who has watched Ervin embrace Maine’s strength and conditioning program that he isn’t finished growing, Ervin might not be finished moving, either.

“He’s much more confident this year. With a season under his belt, he knows the system a little better,” Cosgrove said. “I wouldn’t even be surprised if Levi might become a linebacker. With his size, you can see that. He’s growing into that now.”

Having bounced around the field his entire life as his youth coaches sought the best place for their best athlete, Ervin takes the move and talk of future migration in stride.

“Each position has its pros and cons. I like free. I fit into the system there,” said Ervin, quickly adding, “I like wherever I can play.”

Now that he’s begun the intense process of adding muscle, Ervin has gone to work on improving that other physical attribute you supposedly can’t teach.

“Speed. The college game is a lot faster. A lot faster,” Ervin emphasized. “The coaches met with me before I left, and that was a big emphasis this summer, to work on my flexibility and running form. I think it’s helped out a little bit. Time will tell.”

The tangible improvement won’t be known until after the season. Due to the obvious risk of pulled muscles, the Black Bears don’t complete their annual 40-yard dash tests until they return to school in January from semester break.

On the field, however, the fruit of Ervin’s labor already is obvious.

“He’s another guy who’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger, better,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a hard-working kid. He’s great in the classroom. He’s a great representative of our program. This is real important to him, playing Maine football. It’s good to see guys like that and to see them make the progress that they’ve made, not only in the weight room or the classroom but here on the field.”

Ervin accepts the compliments with a smile, but he didn’t come to the state university to be a Rudy on the practice gridiron or a towel-waver on game day.

“You wait and see and try to work hard in camp,” he said. “But whatever I need to do to get out on the field, I’m going to do.”

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