College Football

SMU Football Player Uses Name, Image, Likeness Policy to Help Mom With Medical Bills

NCAA policy adopted in June allows student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness

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Football is more than just a game for Southern Methodist University junior DeVere Levelston.

"It doesn't matter where you come from or what your background, you can come have fun on this field," DeVere said. "That’s what I love most about SMU football."

As a defensive lineman fighting to make the most of his opportunity with the Mustangs, what he loves most is his biggest fan. His mom cheers him on in the stands every Saturday.

"Oh my God, seeing my son down there playing football doing what he loves, it's just amazing," Charena Levelston said. "When they call his name and say, 'Tackle by number 96 DeVere Levelston,' do you know how proud I am? I just want to jump up. I'm not in the state to jump up, but I want to. In my mind, I'm jumping all over the place."

Jumping all over the place in her mind while her body requires constant treatment to battle major health challenges.

Charena's kidneys failed in late 2020 and now require nine hours of dialysis treatment daily while she waits for a kidney transplant.

"I'm going through this renal failure kidney disease, and it was a turning point," she said. "But I've got a strong faith. And I thought, 'Why not me? Why can’t God use me for something?'"

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"It was tough," DeVere said. "How do we go from this? Where do we go from this? What's the next step?"

The next step was for DeVere to proactively search for a way to help his single mother fight her way through medical bills as they piled up, taking advantage of the NCAA's new name, mage and likeness policy that allows student-athletes to profit off their platform, by setting up a fundraising campaign that raised more than $23,000 in the first month.

"Whoa, wow, just, words can’t even explain the excitement that I had," DeVere said.

"I was flabbergasted, I was like, 'Who?' They don’t know Charena? They don’t know anything about me. Why would they do this for me?" Charena said.

"We’ve had guys on the team that have given that don’t really have money to give, coaches that don’t really have money to give, people that are just trying to help in any way that they can and trying to be supportive," SMU football coach Sonny Dykes said. "People talk about a family all the time, it tells you what a family really is."

A family-like response for a family that continues to remain hopeful for a transplant miracle, as DeVere continues to fight to make the most of his opportunity, motivated by his biggest fan jumping up and down on the inside, making football much more than just a game.

"It helps me grind every day, get up and play the game I love," he said. "It makes me think differently. Just knowing that anything in life can happen, so don't take anything for granted."

"My faith is that it’s going to happen," Charena said. "I believe it's going to happen. I'm hopeful, I'm cheerful and thanking God for all the days He has given me. I know it's going to be a great thing."

Charena's blood type is A-B negative, if you are a match and you're interested in being a living kidney donor contact the Mayo Clinic and specifically give her name: Charena Levelston.

The National Kidney Foundation has a wealth of information on how to become a living kidney donor. Resources can be found locally on Baylor Scott & White's website, Methodist Health System's website, Texas Health Resources' website, Medical City Healthcare's website and UT Southwestern's website. Donate Life Texas also has living donor resources available.

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