In the lore of Edison High football, there was the late Leevel Tatum, then the II and now the III.
“I’m proud to hold a big part of the family legacy,” says the youngest during a break from practice this week. “Grandpa stopped playing after high school. Dad stopped after college. I want to stop after the NFL.”
Outside of football, that legacy counts the late Jarvis Tatum, a great uncle and former major-league outfielder.
As good as Grandpa was as a running back and then also dad – a 1981 All-Metro selection who went on to play at Fresno State, which also is aggressively courting his son – carrying the family torch isn’t such a difficult thing for Leevel Tatum III.
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Dad played at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds at Edison.
“Leevel passed 165 at 9 years old,” he says of his son.
And that’s only part of it.
The latest Tatum stands 6-2, 265.
He bench-presses 425 pounds, squats 450 and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds.
He’s played running back, tight end, wide receiver, defensive end and linebacker, and has blocked seven kicks for 14th-ranked Edison (4-5, 3-1), which will close the regular season against rival and No. 6 Bullard (7-2, 3-1) on Friday night in a County/Metro Athletic Conference game at Chukchansi Park.
He’s arguably the most powerful force in Central Section football, but that isn’t all that defines him, says Tigers coach Matt Johnson.
With all the misery we’ve been through, it’s been his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. He has been instrumental in holding this team together as a family unit. That’s what I’ll remember most about him.
Edison coach Matt Johnson on Leevel Tatum III
“I could talk all day about his overall strength and his ability to run, but everybody knows that,” Johnson says. “Great football players are a dime a dozen. It’s the ones who can also lead, push and drive – that’s what separates the great ones, and Leevel is getting there.
“Most impressive has been his maturation to a young man. With all the misery we’ve been through, it’s been his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. He has been instrumental in holding this team together as a family unit. That’s what I’ll remember most about him.”
A year after going 12-2 and winning the section Division I title, the Tigers plunged to 2-5 following a 23-6 loss at Sanger three weeks ago in a game they were short six players, including four starters, for discipline reasons.
The following Monday, Tatum took it upon himself to write a couple demands of the team on the locker-room grease board. Further, he asked that all of his teammates sign their names on the board.
“Like a contract,” Tatum says. “I asked them to play every play 110 percent, to be at practice 10 to 20 minutes early, not to give up, talk with their pads, listen to our coaches, be more disciplined and turn this thing around.
“They all signed, and we’re getting there – about ready to turn it up.”
As Tatum did in a play at Madera last week.
Aligned in Edison’s power formation – which Johnson uses occasionally, stationing Tatum in the backfield behind 6-foot, 265-pound Alim Shabazz – Tatum gained seven yards, was stopped for a moment but not tackled as seven Coyotes leaped upon him, then moved the pile another 15 yards.
“I dropped my binoculars,” Dad says, “and I’m like, ‘Leevel!’ ”
Edison assistant Jason Murray watched in awe from the press box: “It was a fourth-and-one play, and I said, ‘We got it.’ Then, ‘Oh, he’s still going. He’s still going.’ It was really cool.”
Now the burning question, locally: Will the extraordinary gifts of Leevel Tatum III be transferred to Bulldog Stadium for an athlete destined to play defense on Saturdays, if not ultimately, Sundays?
Fresno State faces stiff competition.
Fresno State is chasing Tatum, but so are Colorado State, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming. And Arizona, Washington, Nebraska and Boise State have shown increased interest in recent phone calls.
Colorado State, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming have also offered scholarships. And the player says Arizona, Washington, Nebraska and Boise State have shown increased interest in recent phone calls.
Tatum says he probably won’t announce his decision until the NCAA National Letter of Intent Signing Day on Feb. 3.
“I have my favorite, but I’m not going to release it yet,” he says. “Fresno State is one of my favorites, but I’m still weighing my options.”
There’s a piece of Dad’s heart that wants his son to follow his path: “Of course, I’d like to see him stay in his hometown, if that’s his decision. But it’s his call.”
The father paused, smiled and added: “About 95 percent.”
Meanwhile, Leevel Tatum II says he’s so proud he’s “ready to burst.”
He has passed on to his son what he drew from his own father.
It’s the Tatum way, as simple as I, II, III.
“I’ve taught him to pray when he gets up, pray before he goes down, pray before a game and stay humble,” Dad says. “He has represented himself well. He’s quiet, humble, respectable and positive. He’s just an all-around good kid.”