For many walk-ons, getting a chance to dress for a home game and getting in for a few plays is a career highlight. For former Gopher wide receiver Tony Levine
, all walk-on status meant was getting a last minute start and taking advantage of it with seven receptions, 141 yards and a touchdown over Indiana State. Levine quickly shed the walk-on status and earned a full scholarship under Coach Jim Wacker
and became a valuable member of a high-flying offense. Levine's hard work and perseverance paid off, as he is still tied for eighth all-time with three 100-yard receiving games. Levine's hard work paid off off the field as well, as he was named Academic All-Big Ten in 1994-95.
The St. Paul, Minnesota, native followed his career at the U with a season in professional football with the Minnesota Pike in the Arena Football League. Following that, Levine opened up a sports marketing company, providing an opportunity to parlay skills learned in football to the business world. But football was always in his heart, and a year later led him to the sidelines where he is currently working his way through the coaching ranks.
A diehard Gopher fan growing up, the current Director of Football Operations at the University of Louisville recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his passion for the Maroon and Gold and his incredible journey from Gopher walk-on to impact wide receiver. GopherHole.com: Where has your post Gopher career taken you?
Tony Levine: Since graduating in the spring of 1996, my career has taken me to four different states. I was a member of the now-defunct Minnesota Fighting Pike of the Arena Football League in 1996, while also running my own sports marketing company, Levine Marketing Group. After a successful year as the executive director of LMG, I was offered and accepted a job as an assistant football coach at Southwest Texas State University under former U of M offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse
. I assisted with coaching the wide receivers in 1997, followed by a stint as the tight ends coach in 1998-99. I was also named co-recruiting coordinator in 1999.
I was then hired as the offensive graduate assistant tight ends coach at Auburn University in the spring of 2000 by former U of M quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone
. After helping coach Auburn to back-to-back SEC Western Division Champions and to appearances in the 2001 Florida Citrus Bowl and 2001 Peach Bowl, I accepted the job as special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Louisiana Tech University in the spring of 2002. After spending the 2002 season at La Tech, I was named the Director of Football Operations at the University of Louisville in February of 2003. This past season we finished with a record of 9-4 and played in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
Academically, I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports management. In 1999, I received my master's degree in Physical Education (sports management) from Southwest Texas State University. Finally, this past fall I earned my Specialist Degree in Adult Education from Auburn University.
I was married to the former Erin Wood from Birmingham, AL, in the summer of 2002. Erin is a nutritionist at a local hospital.GH.com: Thinking back to your days as a Gopher, which game/games stick out the most and why?
Levine: The game that sticks out in my mind most was our home opener in 1993 against Indiana State when I was still a walk-on. Because of an injury to starting wide receiver Omar Douglas
, I was named as a last-minute starter and ended up catching seven passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. It was truly a dream come true.GH.com: What former teammates/coaches do you most often keep in contact with?
Levine: Former players that I keep in contact with include Craig Sauer, Justin Conzemius, Scott Williams, Mike Brown, Kenny McClintock, Lewis Garrison, Tim Socha
, and Doug Hoefer
, to name a few (it's been a long day -- I hope I didn't leave anybody out). Since I'm in the coaching profession, I seem to stay in touch with former coaches more often than former players. I stay in contact with Mark Tommerdahl, Bob DeBesse, Gordie Shaw, Kevin Sumlin, John Gutekunst, Noel Mazzone
, strength coach Kevin Yoxall
, and trainer Brent Millikin
, to name a few.GH.com: What does it mean to you to be a Golden Gopher?
Levine: I can not express in words the feeling I had representing the University of Minnesota on the football field -- again, 'a dream come true' would be an understatement. The pride I have for the U is immeasurable. The memories that I have from putting on my football jersey for five years to walking across the stage at Northrup and receiving my diploma will be thoughts that will accompany me everywhere.GH.com: If there is one lesson you learned from a coach or teammate that stands out more than any other, what would it be?
Levine: The lessons of how discipline, hard work, and passion will allow a person to be successful are things that I learned from my time as a member of the University of Minnesota football team under Coach Jim Wacker
. I spoke to Coach Wacker only weeks before his passing, and the passion in his voice was as strong as ever. He also taught me the importance of never compromising your beliefs and priorities, and understanding what is important in life. To him I'll always be grateful.GH.com: Who was the best teammate you ever played with and why?
Levine: The best teammate I ever played with and also the toughest player I ever played against had to be Craig Sauer
. They didn't come any better than him, and they certainly didn't come any tougher. We roomed together in college, and he was and still is an inspiration.GH.com: If you could come back and suit up against one team, who would it be and why?
Levine: There's no doubt that if I could come back and suit up one more time, it would be against Wisconsin. I'd naturally like to play them again at home in front of the hometown fans, but I also wouldn't mind going to their place and beating them on the road as well. I was never a big fan of the Badgers -- not many kids from Minnesota are.GH.com: If you could give any advice to the current Gopher team, what would it be?
Levine: Advice to the current Gopher team would be to keep working toward all of your goals. They have had great success over the past few years and have achieved some of their goals. Continue to work hard and strive to raise the bar even higher.GH.com: Do you still follow the Gophers? If so, what are your thoughts on where the program is and what will it take to get back to the Rose Bowl?
Levine: I absolutely still follow the Gophers. I always have and I always will follow the Gophers. I think the program is in great shape and that Coach Mason
and his staff have done an outstanding job.Talk about Minnesota Gopher sports in the GopherHole Message Board Community.