The Port Arthur News
Not many sophomores have the talent to play a role on Class 5A varsity teams, let alone start in the midst of a senior-laden secondary.
Port Arthur Memorial sophomore safety C.J. Levine has been starting since Day 1 and has never looked back. The 5-foot-10, 165 pounder is second on the team in both tackles and interceptions, solidifying his place on this Titans squad.
“He’s played a very big role for us,” Memorial head coach Kenny Harrison said. “He was a quarterback in our system last year and he’s still a quarterback. We’re just trying to find a way to get our best athletes on the field and with him being one of our top athetes, we put him on defense. That way, he can play as a sophomore instead of sitting on varsity as a backup QB. He’s one of the top athletes in our program. We recognized that a year ago, when he was a top player on the freshman team.”
Levine, whose first name is Cornelius but who goes by C.J., first caught Harrison’s eye when he and his Pop Warner football team went to the National Super Bowl in Florida. Levine was one of three varsity players on that team, including junior receivers Tayyor Labrie and Albert Jacobs.
“I’ve been watching C.J. play and knowing what kind of athlete he’s been since Pop Warner football,” Harrison said. “He was one of the young men that played on the team that went to Florida. He’s been a tremendous athlete for a long time. He’s a young man we’ve had targeted since he was in Pop Warner football.”
Levine had been a quarterback but played all over the field on both sides of the ball. He was asked last spring to move to defense because a spot might be open there for him. At that point, he took it and ran, becoming the first Titan sophomore to start most of his team’s games since Darius Lemora.
“During the spring, coaches told me to work hard and they’d have a spot for me,” Levine said. “They told me I was a great athlete. So, I just did my best every day. I ran hard and did everything they told me. I played defense all my life. When I got to high school, the coaches wanted me at quarterback. I told them I wasn’t going to get hurt if I played defense, because that was their fear. I’ve played all over. “
Lemora, who played on varsity as a freshman and started at safety in his sophomore season, has been a big help to Levine this season, along with the rest of the Titan veteran secondary.
“I talk to Darius every day,” Levine said. “He’s like a brother to me. He helps me through a lot of things like watching film and studying people. Darius guides me through everything we do, so he’s been a big help for me.”
The adjustment to playing defense has gone well. Levine has 67 tackles this season, including five for a loss, with two sacks, two interceptions, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Levine has excelled at his safety spot, both in dropping back into coverage and coming up into the tackle box to support the run.
“C.J. is a physical kid as well as a great athlete,” Harrison said. “That’s one of the things we discussed when we switched him to defense. He’d be able to play in the box and help out against the run, but he’s got the athletic ability to drop back and cover the pass. He’s just a dual player on the defensive side of the ball and has been great in both the run game and the pass game.“
Levine said while he doesn’t mind the contact, he sees himself as more of a coverage play in the secondary.
“I like being more of a coverage DB,” Levine said. “But, when they have me in the box, I just play my role and do what I have to, because that’s what best for the team. I just go with whatever they need me to do.”
As the only sophomore starting on the defensive side of the ball, it’d be natural for Levine to show some nerves around his more experienced peers. That hasn’t happened this season, as he’s been more concerned about coming in, learning from the older players and trying to live up to their standards.
“It’s been a great experience,” Levine said. “I’ve been learning the defense. I have to pay attention a lot and have more focus on what my objectives are and help the team out. I was kind of nervous at first, but I got over it. I just had to pick up my pace and work as hard as the guys I’m playing with, because someone behind me could be trying to take my spot.”
Now, with 10 starts under his belt, Levine an even shed the label of “sophomore,” as his experience has made him seem older than his classification.
“He’s had a smooth transition out there,” Harrison said. “The senior leadership being there with him has helped his confidence. He’s raised his level of play, playing with those guys. He’s a junior now. If you go through this district and play the North Shores, the Deer Parks and the La Portes and you’re on the field the whole time, that prepares you and makes you grow up real quick. He’s done that and I’m excited about our run in the playoffs and his future leading this team for the next two years.”
TITAN TIDBITS: The son of Lisa and James Levine, C.J. also finished second on the team in PBUs and led the Titans in forced fumbles. … Memorial head coach Kenny Harrison emphasized cutting down on turnovers all season, and the Titans ended the regular season by doing that better than anyone in the district. Only Beaumont West Brook had fewer fumbles lost than Memorial and no team in 21-5A had fewer than Memorial’s 12 giveaways. … The Titans finished averaging 393.2 yards of total offense per game. That’s the second-highest total in school history behind last year’s team that averaged 452 yards per game. … After hauling in six catches against La Porte, senior John Leday has 68 receptions in his career and moved into four place on the all-time receptions list in school history. He trails Jhajuan Seales (75), K’Sean Wesley (94) and Freddie King (102). Leday is also fourth in receiving yards and needs just 62 more to become the fourth receiver in Titan history to top 1,000 yards through the air. … Speaking of milestones, quarterback Ricky Fisk became the fourth player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in his career. He’s also two TD passes away from tying the single-season school mark of 22, set by Terrence Singleton in 2010. … This season also marked the second time the Titans have ever had two different receivers with 40 or more catches. Both Leday (44) and Roderic Rucker (42) have passed 40 catches, while in 2007, Freddie King (53) and Patterson Clay (52) each topped the mark.
Five Questions with C.J. Levine
What is your favorite video game? NBA 2K13
What is your favorite NFL team? Houston Texans
What is your favorite college? Alabama
Who is your favorite teacher? Ms. Johnson
If you could play another position, what would it be? Quarterback