Noel Devine: Former Mountaineer Looking To Restart His Pro Career
By Cam Huffman
If you’re a West Virginia University football fan and you don’t remember Noel Devine, you’re probably either not much of a fan or you’re getting help from your parents to read this article.
Any Mountaineer over the age of five has to remember the Fort Myers, Fla., native running through opposing defenses with speed usually reserved for Delta jets from 2007 through 2010.
Devine came to WVU after an incredible high school career that included 92 touchdowns. He was ranked the No. 6 overall prospect by ESPN in the class of 2007 and chose the Mountaineers over top programs like Nebraska, Alabama and Florida State.
In four seasons in Blue & Gold, Devine rushed for 4,315 yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging nearly six yards per carry. He also caught 98 passes for 710 yards and two more scores, and he was a regular on the kickoff return team. Devine helped lead WVU to victories in the Fiesta Bowl and Meineke Car Care Bowl under the guidance of the late Bill Stewart.
Since leaving Morgantown, though, Devine has struggled to find footing with a professional career. Largely because of his 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame, Devine was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft and had to settle for signing a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. That stint lasted just four days, and he then headed to the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
In 2012, Devine signed a deal with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but he was released after six games. He last played with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2014.
“It’s been a tough road,” admitted Devine. “There have been ups and downs. There have been highs and lows. But I’ve always kept my faith and my belief in myself. If one door closes, another one opens. I like to believe that. But it’s been a tough journey.”
The next step of that journey began in mid-April, as Devine reported to camp to make one more run at a possible professional career with The Spring League, a new developmental league that is trying to give free agent players who are not draft eligible a chance to impress professional scouts.
The Spring League, which includes former NFL standouts like Ben Tate, Ahmad Bradshaw and Greg Hardy, features four teams who will play a total of eight games, and CEO Brian Woods expects every NFL team to send a representative to the games and/or practices at some point.
“It’s a great opportunity to come out and compete with guys that have been in the NFL and see where you stand,” said Devine. “These guys have been there before, so it’s a high level. It’s a blessing to compete with these guys, instead of being at home waiting for phone calls and reaching out to agents. We actually have something to look forward to.
“In the NBA, those guys have a developmental league,” added Devine. “So I think this is a great opportunity for the NFL to come out and scout guys and evaluate their talent. It’s a great opportunity for us to get a second chance.”
The icing on the cake for Devine is that every practice and every game for The Spring League will take place in West Virginia. The Greenbrier’s Sports Performance Center – which has hosted the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, spring practices for both WVU and Marshall and will host the Houston Texans this summer – will be the home for The Spring League, with everything taking place at the state-of-the-art facility, which includes two grass fields, an artificial surface field, weight rooms, training rooms, locker rooms, meeting rooms and offices.
“It’s surreal,” said Devine. “I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to play in front of West Virginia fans again. There are no better fans than here in West Virginia. They always follow me, no matter where I am. I feel like I’m back at home doing what I love to do.
“It means a lot,” he added. “It’s a second chance to be in the great state of West Virginia and play football again. There’s no professional team in West Virginia, so it means a lot to come out here and play for a great fan base.
“West Virginia’s been great to me. It’s a wonderful state. I’m happy I chose to come play my college career here in this state. They still follow me, and I still feel the love. The fans support me here, and I embrace the people here.”
But Devine isn’t back in the Mountain State just to put on a show and try to sell a few tickets for The Spring League. He wants to get back into professional football, and with the magical 30-year-old mark that usually signals the beginning of the end for professional running backs quickly approaching, he knows he needs to make an impression quickly.
“I’m 29,” he said. “So there’s a small window of opportunity. But I like my chances. I’m just competing every day and doing the best I can to make each day count.
“I’m confident in my speed and my ability, and I have experience from the Canadian Football League and the Eagles. That didn’t work out. I had some personal things going on in my life, but the CFL helped me out with my route running, my hands and my ability to catch the ball.
“At the professional level, everybody is fast. So I just have to utilize my strengths and catch the ball out of the backfield.”
The size, Devine can’t do anything about. There’s no magic formula to add inches to his height. But what he can do to prove size doesn’t matter is play bigger than his stature.
“I don’t shy away from contact,” he said. “This is a contact sport, so if you sign up for this game, you’re supposed to expect contact. I’m just looking forward to making plays whenever I get the opportunity.
“I’ve had a little feedback, but I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m focusing on the film and then the next practice. The games are what count. What you put in film is what the scouts will see.”
And the scouts are coming. The Spring League saw the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders send scouts to The Greenbrier during the first week of practice, and more are expected to arrive before the league’s season concludes at the end of April.
Devine isn’t a scout, but he said what he has seen on the field, and on film, has been impressive.
“Just watching film, I saw Greg Hardy run from the back side and almost make the tackle on the front side,” said Devine. “So the speed of the game is good. Guys are going out hustling and competing.”
He’s hoping he’ll catch the eye of one of those scouts and get another chance, one of which he promises he will make the most. If that call doesn’t come, though, Devine is considering other options to make sure his future is secure.
“The backup plan is to continue to move my feet to whatever is next,” he said. “I’m finishing up my degree. I’m taking online courses, and I’m 24 credits away from finishing my degree. I’m chugging away.
“My degree is really important to me. I have kids coming up behind me, so I want to set the tone and let them know that education is first. It’s something that can never be taken away. The door can close on football, but education is something that I will always have.”
Other Mountaineers trying to find an opportunity through The Spring League include receiver J.D. Woods, linebacker Isaiah Bruce and Jeremy Johnson, who played briefly for WVU before winding up at the University of Charleston. The former quarterback is now trying to make an impression on scouts as a defensive back.