Levern Jacobs Jr. couldn’t sit in his Byrd Stadium seat any longer. Aug. 30, 2014, was supposed to be one the proudest days of his life, but it quickly turned into a nightmare.
The day was expected to bring nearly two decades of work to fruition. For his son Taivon. For his son Levern III. And for Levern Jr., a father of two at age 20, who raised his sons with the dream of them playing Division I football.
“Seeing them about to play together for the first time,” Levern Jr. said. “Oh man, you couldn’t tell me anything. I was on top of the world.”
ABOVE: Illustration by Brittany Cheng/For The Diamondback, Levern photo by Alexander Jonesi/The Diamondback, Taivon photo by Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback and Byrd Stadium photo by Mr.schultz via Wikimedia Commons with permission
The Terrapins football team was on its way to a 52-7 season-opening shellacking of James Madison. But Levern Jr. couldn’t focus on the game. Not after peering just beyond the end zone through the Gossett Team House glass and seeing his two sons. He needed a breather.
Levern III, one day removed from learning he’d been suspended for a year because of second-degree assault charges, stood next to his younger brother in the transparent building that looks over Capital One Field. Taivon was leaning on crutches. He’d already missed his true freshman campaign after tearing the ACL in his right knee in high school, and now a nasty hit in the first quarter left him with a torn meniscus in the same knee.
The brothers approached the door to go outside. Then Taivon stopped.
“I didn’t want to go back out there and see everybody looking at me,” Taivon said. “I was just asking God, like, ‘Why? Why again? What do you want me to do?’”
Saturday, Levern III and Taivon will start together for the first time ever as members of the Terps when they host South Florida. The brothers never planned on going to college together. Yet when they both lost the opportunity to play in less than a 24-hour span last summer, they leaned on each other.
“He’s my brother, and he’s my best friend,” Levern III said. “I don’t know how to explain it. That’s my best friend.”
Levern, left, and Taivon pose for a photo when they were younger. (Courtesy of the Jacobs family)
Levern Jr. had a special fan in the crowd at his Gwynn Park High School basketball games his senior year: his infant son, Levern III. Two years later, Rosalind Jacobs gave birth to the couple’s second son, Taivon.
(Courtesy of the Jacobs family)
After a five-year split, Rosalind and Levern Jr. got back together and moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment with their sons.
Money might have been tight, but Levern Jr. had a dream for his boys. So during the summer, starting when Levern III was 9 and Taivon was 7, he’d wake them up at 7 a.m. and bring them to a local park in Hillcrest Heights for training.
Levern Jr. would attach a harness to the boys’ backs and instruct them to drag him halfway up the hill at the park; they’d sprint the rest of the way up.
He wasn’t done. Levern Jr. had Taivon and Levern III run with parachutes strapped around their waists. They’d run ladders. They’d catch passes. And at the end of the sessions, Rosalind welcomed them home with a fresh meal of meat and potatoes.
“I always thought they were too young for it,” Rosalind said. “But he used to tell me, ‘This is what it takes to be great. You have to instill a great work ethic in them very young.’”
Sometimes during the winter, Levern Jr. took his sons to a park near Rosalind’s mother’s house. He’d have the boys run through a mixture of snow and mud, which Levern Jr. said creates friction akin to running in the sand.
Levern III, whose dad called him “my workhorse,” devoured the rigorous exercises. Taivon didn’t always respond as gamely.
“I’m going to tell Mom!” Levern Jr. recalled Taivon screaming with a tear in his eye.
“I’ve taken pride in preparing them to be successful at this level,” Levern Jr. said. “Being at the level they’re at, a D-I university has always been my vision. I would never tell them, ‘You’re a D-II player.’ Those words never parted my lips.”
Levern Jacobs III, Taivon Jacobs, Levern Jacobs Jr. and Rosalind Jacobs gather after Taivon's football game.
The brothers loved football, but they also had a passion for track and field. Taivon, a 2011 AAU national champion in the 400 meters, took his craft seriously. But during a meet his sophomore year at Suitland, a girl from Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School caught his eye.
“We started off as friends,” said Jada Tinch, who was a sophomore when she met Taivon. “And then it moved on to a relationship.”
The relationship eventually ended, leaving Tinch in a difficult situation when she learned she was pregnant. Tinch couldn’t bring herself to break the news to Taivon. Instead, Tinch’s mother told him he was going to be a father.
“What am I going to do? Is my life over?” Taivon recalled thinking. “I can’t play football no more. I can’t go to college.”
On Dec. 26, 2011, Tinch gave birth to Bailey Tinch-Jacobs. Taivon was 16.
(Courtesy of the Jacobs family)
A four-star recruit according to ESPN.com, Taivon had a slew of national powerhouses jockeying to sign him. Rosalind was convinced Taivon would accept an offer from legendary coach Urban Meyer and commit to Ohio State.
But catching passes in Columbus, Ohio, would mean being away from his baby daughter for much of Bailey’s formative years. It would mean less time playing dress-up, less time for Bailey to paint her dad’s nails and less time for Taivon to read his daughter stories.
“She’s really a daddy’s girl,” Tinch said. “I really adore their relationship a lot because sometimes he’s not able to see her because of football. So the moments that he do get, they are cherishable. Sometimes I wish I can record them.”
On Feb. 6, 2013, Taivon sat behind a table in Suitland’s library with a white Terps cap and a black Buckeyes cap positioned in front of him. He said Ohio State was his “dream school” but mentioned that he recently “got into reality” before plopping the Terps hat on.
“If you seen my wife’s face on national signing day, that is a pretty funny sight,” Levern Jr. said. “It totally caught her off guard.”
Levern III was sitting at the end of the table when Taivon announced his decision. About 13 months earlier, the older brother had joined the Terps after a commitment to Marshall didn’t go according to plan.
The Marshall coaches urged Levern III to grayshirt the 2011 campaign and spend a season at Milford Academy in New York. He compiled a program-record eight touchdowns in eight games.
But Levern III decided he didn’t want to return to Marshall. He committed to the Terps on Jan. 4, 2012.
After Taivon spent his first year on the campus in a dorm, he moved into an apartment with his older brother in 2014. It was just like old times. Except now, the brothers were teammates on a Division-I roster.
ABOVE: Taivon Jacobs flips his commitment from Ohio State to Maryland.
“I feel what he feels. He feel what I feel,” Taivon said. “If he’s down and he don’t tell nobody, I know that because I’ve been around him for so long that I know the things he won’t tell others. For me, it’s just kind of crazy, actually, because I really feel as though we’re twins, even though we’re not.”
Levern Jr. had just gotten home from work Aug. 29, 2014, when his phone started to ring.
His oldest son was calling. Levern Jr. listened in shock as Levern III explained the situation: This university had decided to suspend Levern III for the 2014 campaign, deeming a July 19 incident that resulted in a second-degree assault charge a violation of the Code of Student Conduct.
Levern III passed the phone to Randy Edsall, who maintained that the Terps were behind their wide receiver.
But the coach’s words weren’t enough to soften the blow for the family.
“I work for the court system, so even that coming into play was very scary for me because I know what that can do to a young man’s life,” Rosalind said.
On Dec. 1, 2014, Levern III was found not guilty, according to court documents. Aside from a Dec. 30 game against Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl, though, the Terps’ season was over. Levern III spent it on the scout team.
Taivon, meanwhile, would see the field in 2014 for less than five minutes.
Before he realized he had torn his meniscus, Taivon tried to get up and walk it off. He urged the trainers to hurry up and send him back out to the field. He’d been through this before, a year ago rehabbing his torn ACL. But when they brought him inside for X-rays, he knew he was in trouble.
Within 24 hours, both Taivon’s and Levern III’s seasons had been prematurely cut short.
“My head was foggy. I was depressed,” Levern Jr. said. “We had it planned in our head. You figured how you had everything working out. They were both going to be awesome, and it was going to be the Jacobs brothers. And then that fell apart in a hurry.”
(Courtesy of the Jacobs family)
(Courtesy of Jacobs family)
Taivon and Levern III suddenly had a lot of free time on their hands. So they began attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the University of Maryland, run by Bryce Bevill, the Terps’ new director of player development.
Participants engage in Bible study and exchange stories. For Taivon and Levern III, it served as an enriching experience in a time marred by self-doubt.
It was one of the ways Taivon and Levern III helped each other cope during a year spent off the field. Perhaps more than anything, though, they relied on each other.
“Some games when he felt as though he could have helped the team out to make a big play, he would get down,” Taivon said. “I would just be like, ‘It’s OK, your time’s coming. In due time you shall prosper.’ I tell him that all the time.”
That Biblical paraphrase was one of many guiding principles for the brothers.
But there were still dark times. Taivon said there were instances he didn’t feel like eating. Levern III forced him to eat.
“At one point in time when I wanted to give up,” Taivon said, “he wouldn’t let me.”
(Courtesy of the Jacobs family)
Though neither of their sons caught any passes in 2014, Levern Jr. and Rosalind made sure to attend every Terps game at Byrd Stadium. It was hard, Rosalind conceded, but the team is a family.
They were back in the Byrd parent section Sept. 5 when the Terps opened the 2015 season against Richmond. On one play, Levern III and Taivon lined up next to each other.
“My husband and I kind of looked at each other and just kind of had a smile on our face[s],” Rosalind said. “There’s not a lot of brothers on teams across the country. So to be able to play the same position alongside your brother is very special. They’ll never get these years back again.”
Levern III supported his brother when Taivon became a teen dad; Taivon stood by Levern III when his relationship with Marshall soured. It’s a bond that was built through years of trudging through runs together in the snow. Last year, with both relegated to the sidelines, the relationship took on an indispensable role.
“We pretty much helped each other, hand in hand,” Taivon said.
In their first game starting together Saturday, they will look to stretch the field for a passing attack held to 323 yards through its first two games.
Yet Levern Jr. maintains he doesn’t care how many balls his sons catch or how many touchdowns they haul in. He’s just grateful they have the opportunity to play Division I football.
Saturday’s game will mark 386 days since Levern III’s and Taivon’s seasons ended in less than a 24-hour span. Levern Jr. will watch from his seat with Rosalind and Bailey as his sons stream out of the Gossett tunnel and run onto the field.
“It’s definitely been a long road for them, to say the least,” Levern Jr. said. “But we made it.”
Senior staff writer Ryan Baillargeon contributed to this report.