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Editor's Note: For the last several weeks we've been focusing on alumni who are choosing to "serve the common good" and showing resilience during this time of coronavirus. Today we focus on Will Levis '14, a rising star on the Penn State football team who is spending part of his pandemic-induced time away from Penn State raising funds for organizations that support people in need or serve workers battling on the frontlines against the pandemic. He has also kindly agreed to speak with a Country School student who has elected to do a school assignment on the sport he loves: football. For more examples of alumni serving the common good and The Country School, go to Alumni News.
Will Levis had quite a season last fall as the backup quarterback for the Big Ten powerhouse Nittany Lions, appearing in seven games, logging one start, and rushing for 108 yards in the game against Rutgers, the 10th most in program history by a quarterback. Against Big Ten rival Ohio State, the 2019 conference and Rose Bowl champion, Will was called in to the game to relieve the starting quarterback when his team was down 21-0. He went on to complete 6-of-11 passes, rushing for 34 yards, and scored on a 1-yard run. In the end, his team didn't win, but the Lions gave Ohio State a game, finishing with a score of 28-17.
Will's performance in the Ohio State game drew accolades from many corners, including this from reporter Neil Rudel: "Will Levis was outstanding. In fact, it's difficult to remember a Penn State quarterback coming off the bench in a more hostile environment and doing more to put the underdog Nittany Lions in position to beat one of the nation's best teams than what Levis did here."
His accomplishments weren't limited to the field. Will, who studies at Penn State's Smeal College of Business and is on track to receive his BA in Finance, was an Academic All-Big Ten designee and was honored as the student with the Highest Academic Average (cumulative GPA) on his team, along with Blake Gillikin. "Academics have always been a priority for me, and I have TCS to thank for planting the seed that sprouted my obsessive attitude towards intellectual advancement and academic achievement," Will said, a comment that will no doubt bring a smile to the faces of his former teachers.
After his very promising year both on and off the field, Will is excited about what will come next, but coronavirus has made it difficult to plan. And, like college students everywhere, he has had to spend most of his spring semester learning remotely (and training on his own), at home in Connecticut rather than on campus with his peers.
Still, he is choosing to make the most of it. "I decided at the beginning of this 'quarantine' that there were two ways to look at it: either positively or negatively," Will said. "I knew that if I allowed myself to look at the situation in a negative light (which is quite easy to do considering I was missing spring football, missing my social life, transitioning to online classes, along with many other things) that I would undoubtedly not come out of all of this as an improved individual."
So he decided to make the most of the situation. For one thing, he's spending time studying his play book and training, both physically and mentally, so that when he returns to the team he's ready to contribute immediately. He's embracing time with his family (he estimates that since starting college he's probably spent a total of one week under the same roof with his siblings and parents), because he knows family time might be limited in the future.
And he has opted to join Makin' Lemonade Fund, a fundraising network started by a Penn State alumnus and joined by students and graduates from colleges across the country who want to make a difference at this challenging time. All funds raised through the Makin' Lemonade Fund effort support the CDC Foundation in its COVID-19 response, the Direct Relief Fund, which coordinates with public health authorities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to provide personal protective equipment and essential medical items to health workers, and Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
As athletic director for Penn State's Makin' Lemonade Fund group, Will's goal is to increase athlete involvement. He's also serving as a role model, embarking on his own RunninOnLemonade challenge to support the Makin' Lemonade Fund. "We remember the days of making our own lemonade stands to help the community and always loved the hustle, so I've joined the #RunninOnLemonade Challenge," Will says in his challenge announcement (click here). Being the nimble-footed athlete that he is, Will has added an interesting twist to his personal challenge. "In the spirit of how backwards the world we live in right now feels, I thought it would be fun and challenging to complete my choice distance of 5 miles the same way," he writes. "Please pledge per mile I run (backwards) and motivate me to go further for others!"
Learn more and support Will's backwards-running 5 mile effort at https://pledgeit.org/will-levis.
Asked why he opted to get involved in Makin' Lemonade, Will said a friend of his who was involved from the start asked if he'd be interested in participating, and he was immediately intrigued. He joined the team and watched the movement grow from a group chat into something much more widespread. "This was so important for me because I was constantly looking for things in quarantine that would better me as a person," he said. "And I thought, 'What better way of doing this than by helping others?" Will said he believes that giving back is "the most noble and rewarding thing to do in one's life," adding, "I wanted to make sure that when I looked back on this bizarre time in my life ... I made a positive impact on the world around me."
Will has also kindly agreed to speak via Zoom with a 7th Grader, about football for the student's end-of-year passion project. No doubt Will will tell him exactly what he told us – that attending a school like Penn State and to play football for them is a unique opportunity. That it's not easy, but it's rewarding. "There is so much demanded of us as student athletes, and I believe it takes time for each and every one of us to truly understand this and the fact that we are held to a much higher standard than other kids our age," he said. "It truly tests your mental let alone physical strength to be a part of a program like this, but it is so rewarding. We have the largest alumni base in the country, and along with this, I imagine we have the largest college football fanbase as well. Beaver Stadium's atmosphere is second to none, and if you are a fan of sports in general, experiencing a game there should be on your bucket list."
No doubt watching Will play at Beaver Stadium is on many a Country Schooler's bucket list. Congratulations, Will, on your many successes, and thank you for inspiring us with your commitment to serving others, to working hard, and to showing resilience – all of which are key elements of the Country School mission and its core values. Thank you for sharing your experiences with our 7th Grader and with the rest of us. And thank you for showing us an example of someone who is truly turning lemons into lemonade.