A reluctant move to Eastern Washington’s offensive line turned out to be a fruitful change for Kaleb Levao.
If not for the switch from defense in 2016, his college career would likely be over. Instead, Levao swiftly developed into an All-Big Sky Conference right guard.
Levao suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 of the 2017 season when center Spencer Blackburn inadvertently piled a North Dakota State defender onto his leg.
The Aberdeen native was granted a sixth year of eligibility earlier this year because of that injury, having redshirted in 2014, the year he enrolled into the Cheney school as a bullish defensive tackle.
“In retrospect, the move to offense was a really good thing, and I’m still playing in college,” Levao said.
Jase Butorac, EWU’s third-year offensive line coach, was a fifth-year senior center for the Eagles during Levao’s redshirt season, when the two often locked up in drills. A year later in 2015, Butorac was a graduate assistant on the coaching staff and Levao saw limited time, totaling 14 tackles and a sack in eight games, missing three games due to injury.
Levao figured he’d be have a more substantial role in 2016 on the Eagles’ defensive front, but then-offensive line coach Aaron Best — now EWU’s third-year head coach — was thin on depth. Best needed the 6-foot-4, 300-pound ex-basketball player with good feet, and Levao was forced to exchange his red defensive practice jersey in for a white one.
“I think it was a pretty big shock to him when he got moved over,” Butorac said. “He did not want to play offensive line at first.”
Blackburn, also a sixth-year senior, echoed Butorac.
“He had a couple of weeks of not really being into it, wanting to still be a defensive lineman,” Blackburn said. “But once he committed, he’s been a really good player.”
Levao was primarily a backup in 2016, playing tackle and guard, and earned his first start against Central Arkansas in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs when a starter went down with an injury. He’s been a key figure on EWU’s consistently successful offensive line since, starting the first two games for EWU in 2017 before his injury and all of the 2018 season, earning All-Big Sky second-team honors after helping the Eagles set the program’s single-season rushing record (3,839 yards).