Local Youth Gets Picked Up by West Virginia College as a Punter
Guest Post by Ann Constantino, counselor at South Fork High School.
When Levi Paine graduated from South Fork High School in June 2013 he had met with Santa Rosa Junior College Football coach Leonard Wagner and was fairly certain of some kind of a role as a place kicker on the very competitive college squad. There was something comforting in the fact that he would remain a “Bear Cub”, the same mascot he played with at South Fork, but little did Levi know what a wide world of college athletics was to unfold before him.
During his freshman year at SRJC he was a successful starting place kicker, but according to Coach Wagner, it was as a sophomore when he became the team’s punter that he really began to shine. “I started working on punting during the off-season and it turns out that is my true calling,” says Paine. Wagner adds, “He was bombing the ball in practice and we happen to have a very good punting coach, Scott Tabor, who punted for Cal back in the day.”
Paine started the year averaging a respectable 42 yards per punt and by the end of the season he was up to a nearly 50 yard average. He earned the title of top punter in the state in November 2014.
“His punting played a key role in field position and gave our defense an advantage in most of our games by pinning the other team deep into their own territory,” says Wagner.
Wagner also cites Paine’s work ethic as a big part of his success: “Levi’s character was one of his biggest assets. Always pleasant and followed instructions very well. Always on time and working hard.”
Based on his impressive stats he began to receive letters of interest from a variety of colleges, including Humboldt State, Fresno State and San Jose State, looking for a punter. From all the offers he received, he settled on Fairmont State in West Virginia. The school has the Kinesiology major in which Levi has been working to earn his bachelor’s degree and is well known as a teachers’ college, which would enable him to pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a guidance counselor or PE teacher as well as a coach.
“ I had no idea about Fairmont State until they contacted me through my football coach. They needed a punter and were calling schools in California and got my number,” says Levi. Fairmont will pay about two thirds of the cost of Levi’s attendance during his junior year, when out of state tuition will apply to the lifelong California resident, and then will pick up the whole tab Levi’s senior year.
As a Fighting Falcon, Levi will play in the NCAA Division 2 Mountain East Conference. With an enrollment of 4500, Fairmont State is one of the larger schools in the conference formed in 2012 from a group of football schools breaking away from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Levi’s high school football coach, Andy Olsen, is not surprised by Levi’s success. “Most kids with a soccer background can kick well. When he joined the football team his sophomore year we provided some coaching. Levi is a hard worker and a tough kid. He did a lot of things for us besides kicking and he was always willing to stick around after practice and put in extra work.”
During Levi’s junior year in high school he kicked a 43 yard field goal and caught two touchdown passes, scoring all 20 South Fork points in a lopsided loss to Upper Lake. During Homecoming that year he kicked a 44 yard field goal against Ferndale and later that season he kicked a 24-yard field goal right as time ran out to secure the team’s only win of the season over Calistoga.
On the differences between the high school and college athletics experience, Paine says, “It’s definitely very different to have practice and games set up for 120 players as opposed to the 15 we played with in high school. In high school I knew my teammates better individually, but at the JC we really bonded on each other’s success. When so many players are out there giving it their all it really makes you want to contribute as much as you can.” Paine says it was hard to walk off the field after his final game as a Santa Rosa Bear Cub, having developed unforgettable relationships with his “brothers.”
Advice for high school athletes who want to play in college: “Get your classes done while in high school. I wish I’d taken some higher level classes in high school rather than taking a relatively light load.”
Nevertheless, Levi feels strongly that South Fork prepared him well for the life of a college athlete. “South Fork gave me really good study skills that I still use every day.” Additionally, Levi rejects the stigma of being from a small school as a barrier to the aspirations of South Fork players to move on to the next level. “It IS possible to play, even if it means starting at a junior college and then transferring to a small school. Playing sports is a good way to keep yourself in school and stay motivated.” Off the field Levi values the intimacy of South Fork that enabled him to hone his social skills and feel like a contributing member of a community.
With Paine’s determination to improve through the opportunity to get experience at the next level, is he dreaming about going pro after college graduation? “My goal is education first, but if it worked out that would be awesome. Kicking is one of the few positions that sometimes make it into the pros from Division 2 colleges.”
Levi is very grateful to his parents, Gina and Kelly Paine. “There’s no way I’d be here without them. Plus, all my coaches and teammates along the way; everyone who has told me to keep my head down and keep working has helped me to realize my goals are achievable.”
“We are super proud of him and know that he will be successful at the next level,” says Coach Wagner.