By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It was not going the way it was supposed to be going for Noel Devine, but then again it seldom does.
He had come back to the West Virginia University campus for Pro Day, the day the players like defensive end Will Clarke, running back Charles Sims and safety Darwin Cook worked out for the NFL scouts, a day Devine had gone through before a couple of times.
The first time he was battling injuries coming out of his senior year at West Virginia and despite a career that had begun with as much hype as for any high school athlete to come to school and a career that put him among the top running backs WVU had produced, he slipped under the NFL radar and went undrafted.
Last year he had tried again in the midst of what has been a decent career in the Canadian Football League, but now he was giving it one more try, this time as a 26-year-old professional veteran, a father of four children from 3 to 9.
Time wasn’t working for him, but he was refusing to look at it that way.
“As long as I’m playing ball and doing what I love to do, that’s all that matters to me. As long as I’m providing for my family, it doesn’t matter if it’s the CFL or the NFL,” he said.
Still, life slipped him another mickey on this day, for a couple of hours before going through the lifting, the jumping, the timed 40-yard dash and the agility drills he was battling the stomach flu … and losing.
He was throwing up before the workouts and was gassed at the end enough so that he couldn’t finish, yet what he had done he had done well, his 40 time between 4.2 and 4.3 and recording good numbers in everything else.
Part of the reason was the maturity he had gained and the experience of playing in Canada; part of it was the last couple of months spent in Michigan with strength guru Mike Barwis, once doing the same thing under Rich Rodriguez here.
Devine was there to try to get himself into NFL shape, yes, but there was more to it, being joined there by a couple of former WVU heroes who had tasted the NFL themselves in quarterback Pat White and linebacker J.T. Thomas as Barwis was putting together a reality TV show that will probably be airing this fall.
But now Noel Devine, maybe 5-foot-8 and all of a solid 190 pounds, was trying to show the NFL scouts that he was exactly the kind of player the “new” NFL is looking for.
Make no doubt the NFL has changed, especially at running back. Try to name a running back taken high in the draft the past few years. It’s difficult because the emphasis in the league has changed.
“I feel like the game has changed to more hybrid backs. Guys like Tavon (Austin), Percy Harvin … motion to the backfield, motion to the slot. The more you can do the better. That’s what the NFL is turning into now, more of a spread and using their hybrid guys now,” Devine pointed out.
And he, in Canada, has become a hybrid back.
Under Rodriguez and Bill Stewart at WVU, he was a running back in the zone-read offense, but in Canada that changed.
He became more of a Tavon Austin.
“We have similar skill sets, and I can visualize myself doing some of the same things,” Devine said.
In Montreal, he came across a head coach named Marc Trestman, who today coaches the Chicago Bears.
“In 2011, I feel like I developed that going with Trestman,” Devine said. “He used me in a way I’ve never been used before, out in the slot getting screen passes, and I realized what I could do with my speed and my quickness out in open field rather than running through linebackers. I feel like Trestman used me the correct way, the way I should be used.”
He saw what Austin did in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense at WVU, and people have told him he’d have done all that Austin did had he played in the same offense.
“I’ve been told I would have been a great fit for this offense, but I didn’t have the opportunity to play in the offense, so we’ll never know,” he said.
Now, he’s just looking for the big break.
“Line me up anywhere,” he said. “I’m ready to play ball.”
And how did he do in impressing the scouts.
“I’m in the dark,” he answered with a shrug, “but my light always shines.”
One thing is certain; he is hungry to prove that he can do it.
“I’m hungry and humble,” is the way he put it.
The hunger was understandable, but the humility?
“I’m humble because of the CFL experience and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome. I’ve learned we’re not entitled for nothing. God has a better plan for me, and I’m just still trying to figure out what that is. I’ll never give up. Let the story tell itself; it’s not over. It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.