LARAMIE – When he finally resorted to faking an injury during a relatively routine wrestling match with his son, Todd Williams knew Levi’s transformation was nearly complete.
Levi, the University of Wyoming’s redshirt freshman quarterback from the San Antonio area, dazzled fans in his first career start – a 234-yard passing, four total touchdown effort in a blowout win over Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve. He and his teammates were on cloud nine after the 38-17 win, each player firmly carrying visions of a potentially special 2020 season on the horizon.
The Cowboys’ dreams were temporarily put on hold, however, when COVID-19 canceled spring practice and classes at the university for the remainder of the semester.
Levi went back home to Texas, determined to better himself on several levels. Having gotten a glimpse of what his future could hold, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to be his best.
Part of that, he felt, meant changing his body.
Listed at 6-foot-5, Levi clearly has the frame to sport a sturdy build. At the end of 2019, he weighed around 210 pounds. But he knew that, in order to reach his full potential, he needed muscle. So, over the past three months while at home, Levi worked. And worked. And worked some more. A total of six or seven hours of working out per day, with three of those spent lifting at a neighbor’s gym, according to his father.
Of course, building mass involves eating, too. And Levi has done his fair share of that since March, consuming between 8,000 and 10,000 calories per day, according to his mother, Sherie. With Levi home and his collegiate volleyball-playing sister also in town for a few weeks, the family’s grocery bill increased four-fold to upward of $700 per week between Costco, the market and a local butcher.
Fast forward to mid-June, and Levi is now a solid 240 pounds, with arms his father admittedly sometimes stared at while sitting with the family at the dinner table.
“It was ridiculous how much more food he consumed and drank,” Sherie said with a laugh. “I hated to see him go (back to school), but my bank account isn’t.”
So when Todd, who is no slouch at 6-3 and around 215 pounds himself, found himself wrestling Levi recently, the elder Williams had to suck up his pride and pretend he was hurt to end the beatdown. His son was finally too big to handle.
“In my mind, I see him as a little guy,” Todd said. “(But) there was a moment I was in trouble.”
Finally back on campus and champing at the bit for the chance to win the reins to the Cowboys’ offense, Levi feels he’s turned a corner as a quarterback. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Because as much as he’s grown in stature, he feels like he’s grown even more in mind due to everything he’s gone through in the past year. He’s just 19, but he feels like a grizzled veteran.
“A year ago, I can tell you I was guessing most of the time. And that was very apparent,” he said. “Now, I feel like I understand.”
If you ask his parents, Levi’s mental transformation started to become apparent toward the end of 2019. Levi never lacked maturity, but spending a few months away from home for the first time in your life makes you grow up in a hurry. When his parents spoke to him in December, Levi felt like a different young man than when he left for Laramie in the spring of 2019.
After being the big man on campus in high school, Levi had been humbled to an extent, starting the season third on the depth chart behind starter Sean Chambers and Tyler Vander Waal. Chambers was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Nevada, which elevated Vander Waal to the starter and Levi to the backup spot. Vander Waal started the next four games and struggled, which opened the door for Levi to see brief action against Colorado State and Air Force. UW went 1-3 with Vander Waal as the starter, leaving Levi somewhat discouraged with how his first year was going.
“When you transition from being that high school star and everybody knows you and you go into a new environment and you’re on the bottom … you have to earn and build that respect,” Todd said. “We had conversations. It wasn’t always perfect or easy for him.”
Levi was given the starting nod for the Arizona Bowl and didn’t disappoint, leading the Cowboys to a season-high 524 yards of offense all while looking like a natural fit in an offense seemingly tailor-made for his skill set. Vander Waal has since transferred to Idaho State, leaving Chambers and Levi, who was able to redshirt after only playing in three games as a true freshman, vying for the starting job under center.
Having sniffed success at the collegiate level, Levi is hungrier than ever to keep his momentum going in the right direction. His head is in a far different space than it was a year ago, when he was just trying to figure out how to be a college kid. Now, he’s walking the walk and talking the talk. His confidence is through the roof.
“From the bowl game, we realized that we didn’t even play as good as we could have played,” Levi said. “That was probably the most exciting thing.”
When he wasn’t lifting heavy weights or pulling the family’s truck in a now-viral Twitter video during his recent stay back home, Levi was working on his skills by throwing to local receivers, many of whom are Division I athletes. Included in the group were players from Texas Tech, Kansas State and incoming UW freshman Joshua Cobbs. Levi focused heavily on his mechanics during his throwing workouts.
Of course, one doesn’t pack on 30 pounds in three months by just lifting or throwing for hours on end. It involves a Michael Phelps-ian amount of eating.
To start his day, Levi ate a hearty amount of meat and potatoes, according to his mother. Generally speaking, Levi gets hungry every three hours, so a “snack” generally followed breakfast. But we’re not talking a handful of almonds or some Wheat Thins; we’re talking two buffalo chicken sandwiches at a time to go with a Gatorade as he attended Zoom meetings with his coaches.
Dinner was different every night, sometimes chicken and rice, sometimes lasagna and sometimes more meat and potatoes. The mastermind behind the cooking operation, Sherie, said Costco was quite the lifesaver.
There were also occasional midday meals from Texas-favorite Whataburger, where Levi would either get a chicken sandwich or a four-stack, a burger with four patties and four slices of cheese. He would eat at strategic times based on his workouts and metabolism to maximize his gains.
“I just don’t like to see a skinny kid out there getting hit,” Sherie said with a laugh.
This isn’t the first time that Sherie has been tasked with bulking Levi up.
Between his junior and senior seasons, Levi had appendicitis, which required several trips to the hospital and two separate surgeries. He lost about 30 pounds and was down to about 175. It was a serious situation, his parents said, and getting him bigger and stronger was of the utmost importance. Back then, he could miss a single meal and legitimately lose a few pounds.
He was put on a fairly strict 10,000-calorie diet to get back to a reasonable playing weight. If he was missing calories at the end of the day, there was a 2,000-calorie protein shake waiting for him, Sherie said, which was essentially a milkshake with protein powder.
So, compared to the last time Sherie had to help her son gain weight, this recent situation was a lot less stressful. The 2020 edition of the weight-gain battle was instead a strategic fight against an otherworldly metabolism.
“We’d eat (dinner) and then he would make another plate and put it in the fridge,” Todd said. “He’d come back down at midnight and eat.”
As much as he’s grown in size the past few months, Levi’s parents are most impressed with how their son has grown as a person. He has a different air about him, an assuredness that he’s doing all the right things to be the best he possibly can. Seeing your son go back to school after several months home is tough, but seeing him thrive at what he loves takes a lot of the sting away.
Levi isn’t one to give up on things easily, whether it be in a wrestling match with his father or on reaching his goals on the field. Seeing him take the necessary action to get what he wants is a parent’s dream.
“We’re super proud of him … no one got anything free. That work ethic has always been there,” Todd said. “The bowl game gave him a taste of what could be. If gives you a hunger and a fire.”
As for Levi himself, he’s prepared both physically and mentally for what he believes is an open quarterback competition with Chambers. Not one to mince words, he’s crystal clear about his expectations and goals for 2020.
“We need to get two rings next year,” Levi said. “One for the Mountain West, and one for whatever bowl we go to.”