CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It seems apropos that Cecil Level's circuitous route to West Virginia University's football program was aided by John Pennington.
Level is a 5-foot-10, 186-pound defensive back who went from walk-on to special teams stud to scholarship football player to starter.
Pennington was a three-time letterwinner for then-Coach Rich Rodriguez from 2001-04, and earned a free ride because his non-physical gifts trumped any real or perceived size and speed deficiencies.
Level, who spent two years of his eligibility at WVU Tech before transferring to WVU, earned a scholarship in August after a year as a breakout player on special teams. Pennington caught Rodriguez's eye on special teams and eventually contributed as a generously listed 5-10 wide receiver.
(You might recall his 28-yard fourth down touchdown reception in the Backyard Brawl, simply known as "The Catch.")
Pennington was also twice named the "Ideal Mountaineer Man" by WVU coaches.
Level, who made his first Division I start at safety last Saturday against TCU, is earning similar praise.
"I tell you what, if we had 11 Cecils we'd be a great defense," WVU cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit for continuing to play at a high level in practice without starting a game.
"We're trying to grow 11 Cecils on defense."
Level didn't warrant much recruiting attention out of Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, Ga., and landed at the Montgomery-based school. His position coach was Pennington, who is now the receivers and strength coach at Concord.
Pennington convinced Level he still had, well, another level.
"I saw Cecil's drive and work ethic and want to and he had the size for a Division I defensive back," Pennington said. "He needed to be polished to make it but he was so determined."
Pennington told then-Coach Bill Stewart that Level was a perfect fit for special teams, and after spending the 2008 and '09 seasons at WVU Tech, Level sat out a year and became eligible last season.
Level, who made 109 tackles in two seasons at WVU Tech, impressed Coach Dana Holgorsen with his special teams play. Level barely threatened the depth chart at cornerback, but during WVU's off week before the TCU game, the coaching staff shifted Level to safety and tapped him for his first start as an FBS defensive back.