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June 4, 2008
Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour can feel the eyes. He knows he's being watched. And he also hears the whispers. You know, the ones about him being the next great MAC quarterback.
"I have to take this a day at a time, and a season at a time," says LeFevour, who already holds school career records for passing yards, completions, touchdown passes and total offense. "I still have two years of eligibility left."
If they were anything like the first two ? 6,683 passing yards, with 53 touchdowns, and 1,643 rushing yards, with 26 scores ? LeFevour should cement his legacy as a recent MAC quarterbacking giant alongside the likes of Miami's Ben Roethlisberger, Marshall's Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, Toledo's Brad Gradkowski, Eastern Michigan's Charlie Batch, Bowling Green's Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs, and Akron's Charlie Frye.
For now, let's go ahead and call LeFevour the best non-BCS quarterback in the nation.
"He's a good one," says an NFL scout who wants to remain anonymous. "We have heard of him. We'll start looking at him closer."
How did this happen? How did a lightly recruited quarterback from a tiny Illinois high school become such a big deal? LeFevour was one of three quarterbacks to arrive on campus in CMU's 2005 recruiting class. And he wasn't the one who was the most highly touted; that was Sean Price, who never took a snap and now is a student assistant with CMU.
LeFevour, who has a fan Web site (http://www.danlefevourfans.org/) that pays homage to him, had offers from the likes of Eastern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Ball State, in addition to CMU. Think a few Big Ten schools would like to have LeFevour right now?
"We saw things in him, those intangible things," says CMU coach Butch Jones, who recruited LeFevour before leaving to be an assistant at West Virginia in 2006, then returning as coach in 2007. "He had what you call 'it.' There's just something about him."
LeFevour's high school stats (2,929 career passing yards, with 24 touchdown passes) didn't grab anyone. At Benet Academy in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, LeFevour ran a double-wing offense that was heavy on the run.
"We threw about 10-15 passes a game," says LeFevour, who began his prep career as a running back before switching to quarterback midway through his freshman season because of injuries to others.
While the offensive system didn't hone his throwing skills, it did refine his running - which has been a big key to his success in Central Michigan's spread-option attack. His zigging and zagging has played a major role in leading the Chippewas to consecutive bowls for the first time in school history and back-to-back MAC titles for the first time since 1979-80.
Want more? Check this out: Last season, LeFevour became just the second I-A quarterback (Texas' Vince Young in 2005 was the other) to pass for 3,000 yards (3,652) and rush for 1,000 (1,122) in an 8-6 campaign that was capped by a sensational effort in a Motor City Bowl shootout loss to Purdue. LeFevour tied an all-bowl record with six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in the postseason loss to the Boilermakers.
Now, take in this one last factoid: LeFevour finished with 27 touchdown passes and 19 rushing touchdowns. And he even had a touchdown catch. That means he had a hand in 47 TDs.
This tale of accidental stardom began ? as you would guess ? by accident. The plan was for LeFevour to play some as a redshirt freshman in 2006 under then-coach Brian Kelly, who's now at Cincinnati. But LeFevour wasn't supposed to start or ? goodness gracious ? become a star. But in the first game of the season, starting quarterback Brian Brunner suffered a concussion. Enter LeFevour.
"I really felt like I could play well at this level during a game at Kentucky (in late September 2006)," LeFevour says. "I came in with us trailing 21-0."
The game ended up being close, thanks to LeFevour. He threw for 360 yards and four scores and added 47 rushing yards in what turned out to be a wild 45-36 loss. LeFevour went on to earn MAC Freshman of the Year honors and first-team all-league accolades. LeFevour repeated as All-MAC quarterback last season. He'll try to make it three in a row this fall working with a veteran offense that returns eight starters.
The Chippewas also welcome back eight defensive starters. Add it all up, and CMU is the team to beat in what looks to be a strong season for the MAC (Bowling Green, Ball State and Western Michigan also could break out) after the league failed to have a dominant team in 2007.
LeFevour and CMU will get several chances to grab the nation's attention vs. "Big Six"-league foes. On Sept. 6, the Chippewas play at Georgia. While winning in Athens is a mega-long shot, Central Michigan will have chances to win at Purdue (Sept. 20) and at Indiana (Nov. 1). Bottom line: CMU could be a Top 25 team by the end of the season.
Two of the key returnees are wide receivers Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown, who combined for 192 catches for 2,135 yards and 16 scores in 2007. Between taking a class and working at a golf course, LeFevour will continue to develop chemistry with that tandem while helping lead summer workouts.
"It's an important time," says Jones, who is looking to make CMU just the second MAC team to win three consecutive league title games (Marshall won four in a row from 1997-2000). "Dan needs to become more of a vocal leader. He needs to take charge.
"He also needs to work on his arm strength and footwork. He already has good pocket presence. He just has a sense. Some quarterbacks have high vision or low vision. You want that high vision like Dan. He feels the rush, he can step up, slide and look downfield. He's just a special player."
Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.