(This story was reprinted from Volume I, Edition 4 of Inside Indians Football. Ordering information can be found here.)
IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY, the titan Atlas, as punishment for waging war against Zeus and the gods of Mount Olympus, was sentenced to hold the sky. Other versions of the myth have Atlas bearing a column which separates sky from earth, and some declare Atlas' sentence to be bearing the weight of the world. Either way, that's quite a burden for a titan-much less a mere mortal.
Newberry football has its own Atlas, and his name is Terrance Leverett. Better yet, call him TL. He likes to keep it short and simple.
"I wanted to motivate him, so I talked to him before the season about Atlas," Newberry defensive coordinator Todd Knight said of Leverett. "I told him, 'I vision you as Atlas, taking the defense'-the whole team, in fact-'and putting it on your back. Anybody can be human; I need you to be mythological!'
"The pressure's on him. He can't make mistakes on or off the field. That's a big burden, but 'Atlas' can handle it!"
That's why you'll notice the word ATLAS written on his taped wrists on game day. You'd be hard pressed to get an explanation from him before the game, and it's not because TL is a prima donna college football player.
"I'm just amped, psyched up on game day," Leverett tells us. "Nobody can really say anything to me an hour or so before the game up 'til game time. It's going in one ear and out the other."
If TL shifts to another gear during pregame, then he opens up to full throttle by kickoff, leading some to name him among Newberry's best linebackers of all time. When told this, Leverett ducks his head, smiles, and looks down.
"I appreciate the compliment. I don't try to do anything special; I just do my job. If I have to take the fullback, hit the gap, whatever � Give the [defensive] line credit for any of my success. Those guys are doing their jobs."
Head coach Zak Willis has praise for the linebacker's effort: "He's a great leader with a tremendous work ethic. He's everything you would want in a college football linebacker. There's not enough superlatives to describe him."
When asked if Leverett has the ability to play at a bigger Division I school, Willis doesn't hesitate. "Absolutely. I think he would have had a great shot. I've wondered myself how they [the previous coaching staff] got him."
Maybe that's because nobody knew about a great linebacker named Terrance Leverett coming out of high school. That's because he had never played the position before, although he did play just about every other position at little Ware Shoals High School-quarterback, defensive end, strong safety, long snapper, punter, kick returner, and punt returner.
He was brought to Newberry as a 180-pound strong safety, but was installed on the second string as a safety and a drop end. He bulked up after the season, came back at 205 pounds, moved to inside linebacker, and the rest is history�in the making.
TL gives props to two men for getting him where he is today. "My pops [Willie Richardson] taught me the game of football," Leverett said, "and Jet Turner, my old coach at Ware Shoals. He's at Clover now. He really kept me in the game of football; when things weren't going good, he was there to encourage me. I remember wearing #83 as a little receiver in ninth grade and he wanted me to come up [to varsity]. I was like, 'No, they're too big!'" Size is no longer an issue, especially when you've been compared to a Greek titan.
Perhaps the biggest burden on Leverett's back is expectation, both on team and personal levels. Being the conference's leading tackler in 2003 and Newberry's Most Valuable Player carries with it the pressure to repeat these feats.
TL's league-leading 112 tackles in 2003 came in ten games, while his competition played 11 or more games. This year, he is still atop the tackle board at press time with 10.7 tackles per game. Two linebackers have more tackles than he does, but they've already played seven games to Leverett's six.
Surprisingly, he doesn't dwell on a target number of tackles per game. "I play linebacker. I'm going to make a lot of tackles if I play my position. If I go looking for tackles, that's when I'll mess up and get off my game."
It sounds like he and Knight are reading off the same page. "Well, the expectation is 10 to 12 tackles per game. Sometimes he'll get, say 18, but in the overall scheme, he doesn't have to do that. He just has to be a leader out there and do his job."
Maybe Leverett's response is not so surprising when you consider how team-oriented he is. With Newberry's fast 3-0 start this season, fans began to talk conference championships and playoffs, but that was before a tough conference schedule came calling.
"I want to win the SAC championship before I leave Newberry," was TL's only reply when asked about goals. "I really think we're good enough to beat anybody."
That may or may not happen this season, but Leverett will have one more shot if the wins don't come in 2004. He was mistakenly listed in both the game program and the media guide as a senior, although he was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. He played in only three games of his second season and qualified for the exemption, making him a redshirt junior now.
"That was tough," TL said of the injury-shortened season. "I couldn't contribute-when I got hurt, I felt like I was forgotten about."
While it is doubtful that the coaching staff forgot him, other teams might have in 2003, but not now. "Teams are running away from him," Knight answered when asked how opponents prepare for TL. "You'll see he makes a lot of tackles downfield-pursuit tackles. You don't see him making as many at the point of attack, because [the opposing offense] is going the other way. Carson-Newman didn't even run at him."
It's not so much that Leverett is a giant at 6'2" and 220 pounds. His biggest attributes are speed and a nose for the ball. Not that he can't put a lick on someone when need be. TL laughs when he's asked about his hardest hit.
"Coastal Carolina, number one [Aundres Perkins], last year. It was fourth and inches; I hit him and he stayed down a few seconds.
"No no no, wait, it was against L-R. Their starting running back last year [Patrick Henson]. It was on a zone play, just one-on-one, him and me. He didn't get up for about 20 seconds."
If that sounds animalistic, it's just his football side talking. Everyone who knows TL-off the field-knows him as a caring, funny individual.
"What most people don't see is that he's a monster on the field, but truth be told, he's nothing like that off the field," Knight said. "He's very jovial and has a great sense of humor. He talks to everybody and cuts up with everybody. He's laughing, singing in the cafeteria.
"TL is very concerned about his teammates. If something's not right or someone has a problem, he's there to look out for them. He makes sure we can make it right. That's the sign of a great leader."
If compassion breeds compassion, Leverett has had his share of rain. His older brother, Slade Bussey, was shot and killed in 1994 when Terrance was only 11. Tragedy drew him closer to his mother, Anjenet Leverett. "She sees me through good times and bad," TL spoke lovingly of his mother. "If I've got a problem, I go talk to mom. She's always been right there for me."
Nothing that takes place on the field can compare to that kind of tragedy, although Leverett does share his lowest moment in football. "The PC game. Last year." Newberry saw a 14-0 lead turn into a 42-14 blowout in favor of the Blue Hose.
He doesn't like to talk about last year's game, but he gets excited when thinking about this year's battle for the Bronze Derby. "PC is always on my mind, it's always there, the rival game. You don't even have to get amped before the game because you're amped all week. There's just more emotion there."
TL also gets excited about what he considers his most memorable moment. "When we beat L-R last year for the Bishops Trophy. That was the first conference win I was a part of." Leverett recorded a team-high nine tackles in that game to do his part in the win.
And that's what TL does best: doing his part, playing his part. That part might be conference-leading tackler, All-SAC linebacker, All-American nominee, team MVP, and most recently, homecoming king. The popular Leverett won the honor a week ago Friday, and was a perfect choice by the student body. "He's a great ambassador for Newberry College," Knight added.
Keeping it short and simple, playing his part, doing his job-TL will turn in an Atlas-like performance day in and day out. While he may not literally bear the weight of the world, you can count on him to handle the burdens placed on his shoulders. ###