When Corey Levin was "graduating" from Harbins Elementary School in Dacula, Ga., on his way to sixth grade, a teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Told Levin desired to become a professional football player, the teacher reportedly replied: "That's unrealistic. Why don't you become a doctor?"
So when graduation day came, all those friends and families gathered for the fifth-graders' big day were told Levin wished to become a doctor rather than an NFL offensive lineman.
"They shouldn't discourage a young person's dreams that way," Corey's mom, Linda, said Friday afternoon. "I hope they all know what Corey's doing now. He's living his dream. He's just doing what he loves."
At 5 this morning, Linda and Grant Levin will pile into her Dodge Avenger or his Chevy Nitro and begin the 4 1/2-hour drive from their Dacula home to Nashville's Nissan Stadium to watch the next step in their son's dream for eventual NFL stardom.
For the second time in two weeks, young Levin — the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout — will pull on a No. 61 Tennessee Titans jersey and be a member of the team's active roster for its 1 p.m. Eastern kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"He's always worn No. 62," Grant said Saturday. "And he wore No. 62 in the preseason. But a veteran player, Brian Schwenke, wanted it and they gave it to him. Maybe he'll get it back one day."
Just the fact that he's wearing any number and dressing out in his rookie season as a sixth-round draft choice is pretty amazing.
For as Grant Levin also said, "Less than 1 percent make it to the NFL. I coached Corey from rec ball into high school, and it was always one day at a time, one week at a time. That's the NFL, too."
Perhaps that's what first drew the Titans to him and why they brought him for a private workout not long before the draft. That mindset and work ethic also might be why Levin was immediately moved to center and is quickly adjusting to the most difficult position on the offensive line.
"We were excited about it," Titans offensive line coach Russ Grimm, the NFL Hall of Famer, wrote in an email. "Corey came in and we moved him over to center. He's a backup for us now and we'e confident he can get the job done. He's right on pace. (He needs) a little bit more confidence making all the calls to communicate both sides together, whether it's the guard or the tackle. He's progressing fairly well right now."
He has progressed well enough that when offensive lineman Quinton Spain was lost to injury a couple of weeks ago, Levin was moved to the active roster for last week's win over Baltimore, though he did not play.
After learning early last week that her son will again dress today, Linda said the coaches have told Corey he might get a chance to play against the Bengals.
"He's being patient," she said. "But I know he wants to get out there and compete."
If not playing has been an adjustment for Corey — "A lot of times I don't know if I'm even going to dress or not until an hour and a half before the game," he said last week — the change from driving 2 1/2 hours to UTC's Finley Stadium to almost twice that long to the Music City has been an adjustment for his parents.
"Honestly, it just seemed so innocent, just the Mocs family," said Linda, who loved tailgating with UTC's fans. "Facebook helps me keep up with so many people we became friends with during Corey's time there, but you really don't realize how much fun it all was until it's over."
Not that their tailgating days are behind them. Corey's fiancée, Anna Beth Miller (the couple is getting married in March) is from Nashville, and her family hosts tailgates before every Titans home game.
That said, Grant still has his superstitions.
"I've got to wear the same Titans light blue shirt and cap — it's washed, of course — to every game," he said. "I want to get there early. And we know it's football season if we're eating at Cracker Barrel. That's one of our traditions."
There are a thousand reasons to root for any young man or woman to realize their childhood dreams. Here's one big one reason to embrace Levin.
When he was asked last week about being placed on the active roster, the former All-American didn't break into a big grin or pump his fist or thank a higher power for his big break. Instead he said, "For the team, it's not the best if I have to go in, because it means somebody got hurt."
Then again, perhaps that's why they drafted him. Or why he and a few other rookies went to Fort Campbell earlier this season to referee a flag football game.
"Corey's grown up and matured," said Linda. "He's bonded with these guys. The offensive line eats dinner together every Thursday night. Those guys get really close."
Just before the start of last week's win over the Ravens, Grant pulled the cap from his head as the national anthem played, feeling a chill when the Navy's Viking jets performed their flyover.
"I had tears in my eyes," said Grant. "It's like a fairy tale."
Or a childhood dream come true.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.