Pine-Richland grad catches on as receiver at Albany

Saturday, December 9, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Levi Wentz has found his home in more ways than one.

A raw prospect who played just one year of high school football at Pine-Richland, Wentz signed with Old Dominion to play defensive back.

But three years later, he’s a wide receiver at Albany and the change of school and position has paid off.

Wentz has 15 receptions for 242 yards in his first full year as a receiver and is the kick and punt returner for a Great Danes team that won an NCAA FCS playoff game, 43-13, over Richmond on Dec. 2. They were set to Idaho in the quarterfinals on Dec. 9.

It’s been a fun ride for the redshirt sophomore.

“I wasn’t sure where I was going to go in the future, but through prayer and trusting God’s plan, I was put in the right spot,” Wentz said. “I’m surrounded by a lot of people who see my potential and want to develop me. We all share the same vision of greatness. Coming up to Albany has helped me lock in on my love for the game. I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys that are willing to put it all on the line to do the same thing.”

Wentz’s position and school switch are partly tied to current Albany quarterback Reese Poffenbarger.

Poffenbarger and Wentz were in the same freshman class at Old Dominion in 2020 and quickly became friends.

In his first year at Old Dominion, Wentz moved around the defense from corner to safety to linebacker. Being a raw player with only one year of football experience, it was all about finding the right position, and it was Poffenbarger who opened his eyes to offense.

“Reese gave me the idea to switch to wide receiver,” Wentz said. “We spent a spring out on the field together, him at quarterback and me at receiver, working on plays.”

Poffenbarger transferred to Albany, but Wentz kept in touch with him. When Wentz decided to enter the transfer portal, it wasn’t long before he got his first call and it was from Poffenbarger.

“He called me probably 20 minutes after I said I was going in the portal and said, ‘We need you up here,’” Wentz said. “I went on a visit that weekend and fell in love with everything they have to offer. I have to give credit to Reese for giving me the idea to come up here, but also the coaches have welcomed me with open arms and I’m forever grateful for that.”

Wentz played basketball at Pine-Richland growing up but decided to try football his senior year. He earned a starting job in the secondary on a Rams team that went on to win the Class 5A state title, the first in program history.

He didn’t have any reps on offense prior to making the switch to receiver in college but sensed early on that it was a spot where he could make an impact.

“I knew I was a raw athlete that could offer a lot of things that some players may not be able to, like going up and high-pointing the ball, going up and getting it and running by people,” Wentz said. “Those are things I can relate to basketball. I felt like my athletic ability would translate better to receiver. Coming from defense gave me more knowledge of the game, since I’m still new to football. It gave me knowledge of coverages and defensive structures that I can relate to my teaching from linebacker, corner and safety at Old Dominion.”

Becoming a return specialist is something Wentz said kind of started as a joke during the summer. Any time they’d work on special teams, Wentz would tell the coaches he’d go back and return it.

Eventually, he won the job and has had success. He returned a kick 60 yards against Stony Brook and had a 36-yard return in the playoff win over Richmond.

“Being as new to the game as I am, I wasn’t the first pick to do it, but things went on and I ended up back there,” Wentz said. “My grandpa always used to tell me all you have to do is run where they ain’t when we’d watch football together when I was younger.

“I like doing it. It’s a good way to get the ball in my hands, because we have a really deep receiver room with a lot of guys that are capable of making plays. It’s another way I can make an impact for the team.”

Albany is in the FCS playoffs for the third time and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time, so it’s already been a historic season. The goal is to make playoff runs a regular occurrence.

“Everybody in this program has the same vision. … We all want to be great,” Wentz said. “We know when the big games come around, you feed off the energy and make plays, but those are the same plays we practice countless times in the week of preparation. It was great to play that first playoff game at home. The fan base here is awesome. The whole town comes out to support us.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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