This Sunday is the biggest game of the NFL season, and unless you are a fan of the Patriots or Falcons, you might not know who to root for. You could decide to root for the Falcons because Tom Brady already has too many nice things, maybe you will root for the Patriots because you enjoy Darth Vader and other evil things, or maybe you’ll root for the Beavers. While technically there won’t be any orange and black on the field, it will be in the hearts of two Atlanta Falcons players, former Oregon State Beavers Andy Levitre and Terron Ward. The former Beavs are a part of an offensive juggernaut that has carried Atlanta all the way to the biggest game of the year.
Andy Levitre was a diamond in the rough for former Beaver head coach Mike Riley in the 2004 recruiting class. The lightly recruited Levitre was considered a 2 star prospect, but he emerged as a key piece for the Oregon State offensive line, playing both guard and tackle during his tenure in Corvallis. Levitre was a part of some of the more successful Beaver teams of recent years, playing in three bowl games and beating the Ducks in Autzen in double overtime during the 2007 season.
Following his Oregon State career Levitre was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Expectations were high for the top guard of the draft, and Levitre did not disappoint getting off to a hot start in Buffalo, starting all 16 games of his rookie season at left guard for the Bills and being named to the NFL all-rookie team. He spent three more very successful seasons in Buffalo before hitting free agency following the 2012 season. Several teams lined up for his services, seeing Levitre as the missing piece to their offensive line holes. He was one of the most sought after free agents of the 2013 off-season. Levitre ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans for 6 years and nearly $50 million dollars. Football can be a fickle game though, as the fit with the Titans never really seemed to pan out for Tennessee or Levitre, and he was eventually traded to Atlanta for a 6th round pick right before the 2015 season.
Levitre, currently in his second season in Atlanta, has had a pretty good life as of late. His career seems to be back on track after a couple disappointing seasons with the Titans, he is on the verge of the biggest game of his career, and he is a brand new father. While there is no doubt that Levitre is one tough dude, having started all 128 games of his NFL career, he is no match for his wife Katie, who was awarded the Falcons game ball after sitting through the playoff game versus Seattle while in labor with their daughter Lily. I’m not sure if Katie is an Oregon State alum, but if not she, along with Lily, definitely deserves honorary status in Beaver Nations hearts.
Terron Wards path to the NFL has been less glamorous than that of Levitre. Ward was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, he was not a second round pick, in fact he was not a draft pick at all, being passed over while 22 running backs were selected. Following the 2015 NFL draft Ward signed as an undrafted free agent with the Falcons. He was impressive enough in training camp that the Falcons decided to keep him, while cutting some of their draft picks.
Life for an undrafted player in the NFL is not easy though, especially when you are stuck behind arguably the best running back tandem in the NFL, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Even though Ward played in 13 games in his rookie season, he was cut by the Falcons earlier this season, was passed over by other NFL teams and placed on the Falcons practice squad. Eventually injuries to other Falcon running backs lead to Ward returning to the Falcons 53 man roster. When on the active roster Ward has contributed on special teams, and given the occasional breather to Freeman and Coleman. Ward is hoping to be on the active roster for Sunday, but even if he's not, his contributions to the Falcons during games and on the practice field should not be ignored.
The Super Bowl is only two days away, so make your plans, purchase your chips and beverages, wear your orange and black, and root on the #SuperBeavs this Sunday as they take on the Patriots who just happen to employ two former Ducks on their roster.
Prediction: Falcons 34- Patriots 24