- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Go ahead. Try to script a better freshman season than the one Dan LeFevour enjoyed at Central Michigan.
Give up yet? Thought you would.
Here's a refresher:
As a redshirt freshman in 2006, LeFevour set single-season school records for passing yards (3,031), touchdown passes (26) and total offense (3,552 yards). Taking over as quarterback on the second offensive series of the season, he guided Central Michigan to its first Mid-American Conference championship since 1994, its first 10-win season since 1979 and its first ever Division I-A bowl victory (Motor City).
The runaway pick for MAC Freshman of the Year earned first team all-league honors and was named Motor City Bowl MVP after racking up 231 yards of total offense in a 31-14 whipping of Middle Tennessee.
LeFevour enjoyed a career's worth of success in only 14 games, but he isn't bullheaded about his success.
"A lot of things did go my way," he said last week. "I definitely did a great job of maximizing what I could out of my situations, but I realize at the same time I was very fortunate because that stuff doesn't happen all too often."
There it is, Dan LeFevour in a nutshell. Openly confident in himself and his abilities, but not naive enough to stiff-arm his good fortune.
LeFevour has a strong arm, fast feet and a quicker mind, but his meteoric rise in Mount Pleasant, Mich., boils down to this: He doesn't take favorable breaks for granted. He capitalizes on them. Big time.
Rewind to Aug. 31, the season opener against Boston College.
Brian Brunner started at quarterback for Central Michigan but was mashed by two Eagles defenders on the second play from scrimmage, sustaining a concussion. In stepped LeFevour, who threw for 221 yards and a touchdown and added 72 rushing yards and two more scores as Central Michigan fell 31-24.
LeFevour threw for two touchdowns the next week at Michigan before being named the starter over a healthy Brunner for the MAC opener against Akron. Handed the wheel, he drove the Chippewas to wins in 10 of their final 12 games.
"The biggest thing is these guys wanted to be led," LeFevour said. "They wanted someone to step up and be the quarterback. They didn't want someone who was shy about it. Talk is cheap. You've got to show them that you're capable of holding that position.
"A lot of things did go my way. I definitely did a great job of maximizing what I could out of my situations, but I realize at the same time I was very fortunate because that stuff doesn't happen all too often."
-- Dan LeFevour
"That's what proved it to them more than anything, when I started putting a few games together back-to-back."
Behind LeFevour, the Chippewas went 7-1 in MAC play, then thumped Ohio 31-10 in the league championship game at Ford Field. But three days later, LeFevour's charmed career hit its first major snag as coach Brian Kelly bolted Central Michigan to take the top job at Cincinnati.
"I didn't expect him to leave this year," LeFevour said, "but I didn't rule it out. Anyone who's offered that much money [around $800,000 a year], it's understood."
Yet even a coaching change, the inevitable byproduct of non-BCS success, wouldn't sidetrack LeFevour.
A month after Kelly departed, the school hired Butch Jones, who recruited LeFevour to Central Michigan while serving as a Chippewas assistant coach in 2004. Jones plans to maintain the spread offense, flavoring it with what he learned at West Virginia, where he coached wide receivers in 2005 and 2006.
Another great break for LeFevour? Without a doubt.
"He was my recruiting coordinator," LeFevour said of Jones. "He's a big reason why I committed here."
Jones left Central Michigan for West Virginia before LeFevour arrived, but the two stayed in touch the next two years.
"All of a sudden, I heard he was a candidate," LeFevour said. "I was rooting for him. It's kind of funny how things come full circle."
LeFevour couldn't have envisioned a smoother transition, but he isn't falling back on his association with Jones.
The rising sophomore is taking a proactive approach in spring practice. In addition to studying hours of West Virginia tape, LeFevour has phoned Mountaineers star quarterback Pat White to pick his brain about the customized spread.
"Dan is very intellectual," Jones said of LeFevour, who holds a 3.68 GPA. "He'll replay every throw, every situation. He just left my office, and later he'll have a list of 5-10 questions from what he did in practice to film study to, 'Hey, coach, I was watching West Virginia stuff last night. Why did Pat do this? What was he thinking here?'"
LeFevour also has helped his teammates transition to the new coaching staff. After Jones was hired, LeFevour briefed players on what to expect.
His go-between skills have been vital this spring.
"He communicates with a lot of the coaches for some of the players, just [relaying] the ideas they have," wide receiver Bryan Anderson said. "He's taken more of a leadership role."
When Jones recruited LeFevour out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., he saw a quarterback with good feet, a strong arm and a quick release. But he was most impressed by LeFevour's poise and competitiveness.
"He's very calm, never gets flustered," Jones said. "Same intangibles as Pat [White]. Put it this way: You always know who's in charge when he's out there."
Jones has challenged LeFevour this spring, repeatedly putting his quarterback in pressure situations.
"When an individual has success early in their career, you've always got to gauge how they're handling it," Jones said. "Do they let it get to their head? Do their work habits change? Does their personality change? Does their demeanor change? I've watched that really closely in Dan, and that has not changed one bit."
"When an individual has success early in their career, you've always got to gauge how they're handling it. Do they let it get to their head? Do their work habits change? Does their personality change? Does their demeanor change? I've watched that really closely in Dan, and that has not changed one bit."
-- Central Michigan coach Butch Jones
Anderson saw LeFevour's potential during their redshirt year in 2005 when they worked together on the scout team. LeFevour's coverage-reading skills separated him from the other quarterbacks, and Anderson knew his classmate would succeed if given the chance.
Last fall the two formed the nation's best freshman quarterback-receiver connection, hooking up for 867 yards and five touchdowns.
"He can put it on you in a tight situation," Anderson said. "A lot of times against Cover 3 we'll send four verticals and he'll just throw the ball in a tight seam on the two inside verticals. We did that all season last year."
Central Michigan's offense figures to have a slightly different look this fall. After LeFevour and Ontario Sneed shouldered the rushing load in 2006 with 267 carries combined, the Chippewas plan to broaden their ground game.
Fullback Troy Doane could see an increased role after carrying the ball just twice last season.
"We have a lot more weapons to work with this year than last year," LeFevour said. "We have a better demeanor for running the football, where sometimes [in 2006] we got pigeonholed with how we had to attack a defense."
Central Michigan loses key players like defensive end Dan Bazuin and center Drew Mormino, but with a young core, LeFevour thinks the Chippewas are the team to beat in the perennially wide-open MAC.
"Why not?" he said. "We should be thinking that way. A lot of people are thinking of us as they do their workouts in spring ball. So we have to have the same attitude that we are the champions and we can defend our title."
Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.
After grabbing the quarterback reins as a freshman last season, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour is looking to build on his impressive start.