Former WVU star Devine wants chance in the XFL

Noel Devine (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The segments are grainy, but a figure distinguishes himself. Dressed in red and white, he dekes, spins, and outraces hordes of defenders in a way that, if not for his size, would prompt parents from opposing high schools to demand a birth certificate be presented.

“The plays that I made and the way that I played the game in high school has still got people talking to this day,” Noel Devine, now 31, said proudly, referring to the YouTube cut-ups. “My biggest accomplishment would be my highlight reels. Everything else speaks for itself.”

Devine ranks third all-time in rushing at West Virginia University, behind only former teammate Pat White and Avon Cobourne. He’s second in all-purpose yards (5,761), trailing burner and seven-year NFL vet Tavon Austin, and has the most receptions (98) by a running back in Mountaineer history. He’s one of eight players from North Fort Myers high school to have his jersey retired, others including Deion Sanders and Jevon Kearse.

Devine grew up in Fort Myers, living between the homes of his grandmother, his mom and stepdad, and, later, the family of a former Pop Warner teammate. Playing football across the bridge from Fort Myers in Cape Coral provided Devine a sense of relief and a hope of making something of himself.

“[Football] was something I felt helped me get away from what I was going through with losing my mom,” he said, mentioning that his mother died due to AIDS when he was 12. “It was an escape and as soon as I put my hand on the ball, it was something I enjoyed doing and something I was good at doing.”

Devine eventually began to notice how he was outracing defenders, oftentimes to the endzone. To say the least, he was good. But, come high school, some looked at his size and had their reservations.

“I remember nights being on the back porch at my grandmother’s house lifting weights after my 8th grade year, just trying to prepare myself,” Devine said. “People were like, ‘Oh he’s too small, he’s not going to play running back.’”

By his freshman year of high school at North High, Devine said, he was bench-pressing 315 pounds. He soon learned that his father and uncle attended the same high school in the 1980s.

“It was an amazing feeling to know that I was following the same footsteps and that there was a little family tradition there,” Devine said.

As a ninth-grader, he played on the varsity squad and, after an eye-popping run, many believed him not to be a freshman. His average carry was good for more than nine yards.

By his senior campaign, he was a five-star all-purpose back who ran scampered for 2,148 yards and 31 touchdowns. Devine was offered by Alabama, Florida, and USC, among others. He committed to play for offensive designer Rich Rodriguez and WVU in March of 2007.

However, he almost didn’t qualify academically. He thought of going through a prep school, visiting Milford Academy, the same seminary LeSean McCoy attended.

“I was going to come in and rep behind [McCoy],” Devine said. “I took the visit and thought ‘This place looks creepy.’ There was a graveyard right behind the football field, a shed as a weight room. In the middle of New York, it just looked haunted.”

Instead, Devine reworked his grades through computer courses and enrolled in Morgantown, where he finally graduated from in December.

“It was time-consuming and it was challenging, but it was definitely worth it,” Devine said. “Taking classes online is way different than being on campus and having hands-on and tutors and mentors to guide you through and kind of help out, but I got it done. Football mindset, no excuses, man.”

On the field, he was a two-time All-Big East honoree and one of four players in the history of the conference to surpass 4,000 career rushing yards.

Devine made a name for himself, becoming the quickest WVU player to ever rush for 100 yards in a game, reaching the mark in two carries at Maryland. He filled the shoes of an injured Steve Slaton in the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman, scoring a pair of touchdowns against Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners. In his junior year, he was one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award.

After moving on from West Virginia, Devine’s physical stature once again came into question as a detriment. He estimates he weighed 160 at the Senior Bowl and 20 pounds heavier by the Combine, where he didn’t run because of a toe injury.

He went unselected in that spring’s draft, but was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. His time in the City of Brotherly Love last less than a week, as one of his best friends was killed and pressure weighed on Devine’s shoulders.

“My dreams turned to a nightmare,” Devine said. “I was devastated, basically walking out of Philly just in disbelief. I couldn’t compete for the job I needed to do. I felt like I just had anxiety, worrying about punt returns.”

Without football, he felt empty.

“This is something I worked for all my life. This is my dream. This is what I want to do. It’s what I’m happy doing. I turned my back on my dreams.”

Devine landed with the Omaha Nighthawks in the since-disbanded United Football League. He would later join a couple of teams in the Canadian Football League, but his playing time was limited by established league veterans.

“I never thought I would take those routes,” Devine said. “My biggest fear was to not make it in the NFL.”

Most recently, Devine made plays for the reigning American Arena League-champion West Virginia Roughriders, sporting colors almost as flashy as his highlight tapes. In Wheeling, Devine said, he was making sure that he still had the affection for the game.

“You’ve got to really ask yourself, ‘Do you love the game?’” Devine said. “It was a great experience to be back in West Virginia, to be around those fans that know me and see me in their eyes as a legend.”

Devine has his sights set on greater, however. He recognizes that, from critical and political standpoints, his window is closing.

“It felt great, man,” he said of his time in the AAL. “Just being back out there running around, I feel like I haven’t lost a step. My body really hasn’t taken a beating, so I feel fresh. I feel young.”

Last Monday, Devine participated with roughly 20 others in an invitational workout in Dallas. The scouts judged change-of-direction in footwork drills and route-running against air.

“I feel like there are always second chances and second opportunities. I feel like I should be able to have one and a lot of people want to see it […] I’m just trying to get a taste of it.”

Although he hasn’t had any contact with XFL clubs, Devine is willing to work his way up from Team Nine.

To whoever takes the chance on who many call the most exciting player in WVU lore, Devine said, “They’ll get a playmaker that can take the top off of a defense. Someone who’ll make big plays and that’s accountable. I’m what they’re looking for.”

Defenders stymie Guardians, climb up East rankings

DC Defenders Quarterback Cardale Jones (Credit: XFL.com)

The clock flashed :02 as the Guardians’ Marquise Williams reached for the snap from the shotgun. D.C. defensive end Tavaris Barnes screamed off of the left edge and gave chase to the rolling quarterback. Williams pivoted, suddenly switching direction and evading the Defender. Affording himself some distance from Barnes, he set his sights downfield, pointed and cocked his right arm. By the time Barnes lunged to tackle him, the ball was floating high in the air.

Safeties Rahim Moore Sr. and Carlos Merritt batted the ball from Mekale McKay’s clutches, but, in all actuality, the game had been over for much longer.

Kevin Gilbride’s New York Guardians (1-1) entered the nation’s capital Saturday expecting better against Pep Hamilton’s D.C. Defenders (2-0.) From the outset, quarterback Matt McGloin and company had trouble advancing the football, receiving the opening kickoff only to promptly give the ball to the Defenders three plays later.

D.C. wasted no time, embarking on an 11-play, 85-yard scoring march. The drive started with a 25-yard strike from Cardale Jones to Eli Rogers, who played in the contest despite his mother’s funeral being held the same day. Facing fourth-and-two from New York’s 47-yard-line later in the series, Jones galloped for 14. Six plays later, wideout DeAndre Thompkins pulled in his first XFL grab, a 13-yard touchdown.

The next Guardian possession looked to be another three-and-out as Justin Vogel lined up to punt on fourth-and-one. Or so it seemed. Playing personal protector, backup quarterback Marquise Williams, who held off Chicago Bears passer Mitchell Trubisky in their time at Chapel Hill, took a direct snap and wheeled for 16 yards.

The Defenders put an end to any momentum less than a minute later. Guardian tailback Darius Victor hauled in a McGloin checkdown and charged forward, colliding with former Bronko Nagurski awardee Scooby Wright. In came five-season NFL vet Rahim Moore Sr., who extracted the football from Victor’s grasp before a scuffle broke out post-whistle.

Again, the Defenders slowly worked their way down the field for a score, this time a 27-yard Ty Rausa field goal to make a nine-point D.C. lead.

In the following Guardian possessions, McGloin got in his own way, missing the mark on a deep pass and gifting the ball to D.C.’s Matt Elam, bobbling a snap, and intentionally grounding a ball on third down.

A 40-yard hook-up from Jones to Rashad Ross within the last two minutes of the first half afforded Ty Rausa another three points, this time from 36 yards out.

Combined with his criticism of offensive playcaller G.A. Mangus’s gameplan before heading into the tunnel at halftime, a pick-six thrown by McGloin early in the second half led to his benching in the fourth quarter. For the day, the Penn State product threw 8-for-19 for 42 yards and two interceptions.

On their first series of the third quarter, D.C. called seven straight rush plays, attempting to crush the soul of the Guardians. An interception thrown by Jones in the redzone kept the window slightly cracked for New York.

During the Defenders’ first possession of the final quarter, Jones assured his appearance on highlight tapes with a magical play on third down. The 6’5” signal-caller was twisted down by defensive end Bunmi Rotimi Jr., mishandling the football. Jones dropped to his knees to retrieve it, then escaped the pocket to find Thompkins for 25 yards. The drive ended with a Rausa field goal.

“It kind of just slipped out of my hand as I was trying to catch my balance on the ground,” said Jones of the zany play. “I didn’t hear a whistle, so I got back up and continued the scramble drill. DeAndre made a great play staying in-bounds and catching it and getting the first down.

With a touchdown catch by tight end Derrick Hayward late in the frame to make it 27-0, Hamilton opted to attempt the league’s first three-point conversion, however unsuccessfully.

Like last week, the Guardians were dreadful come third down, converting on a single one of their 11 tries. The team’s net yards (137) and net passing yards (66) were the least of any team within the XFL’s first two weekends.

The D.C. offense picked up 16 first downs, also going 9-for-18 on third down. The unit netted 384 yards.

Jones finished the game a relatively impressive 23-of-37 for 276 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. Both Rashad Ross (four receptions, 95 yards) and DeAndre Thompkins (6 grabs, 92 yards) almost eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Eli Rogers caught five balls for 49 yards. Running back Donnel Pumphery toiled for 52 yards on a dozen attempts, while Jhurell Pressley added 32 on 11 rushes.

Defensively, the newly-acquired Anthony Johnson registered one-and-a-half sacks late in the contest. Each Jameer Thurman, Rahim Moore Sr., and Matt Elam forced turnovers.

“We’re playing good team football and, ultimately, that’s what you have to do to win games,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said. “We’re going to have a tough opponent next week in the L.A. Wildcats. But I do feel like, if we pack a good defense, which we will, to head across country, that we’re going to have a chance to continue to play Defenders football the way we play.”

Playing on Sunday for the first time this season against L.A., Hamilton made it known his team won’t be taking any breaks.

“We have an extra day to prepare,” Hamilton said. “And we’re going to do just that. I think, for a second, our guys thought that we’d have a ‘Victory Monday’ of sorts. That’s not happening. Our guys are excited to have the privilege to put in more work.”

The game against the winless Wildcats will kick off at 6 p.m. on FS1.

D.C. to defend home turf again, an early look at the Guardians

The DC Defenders hit the field. (Credit: XFL.com)

The D.C. Defenders (1-0, 3rd in the East Division) will welcome the New York Guardians (1-0, 1st in the East Division) onto Audi Field this weekend in the first clash between unbeatens in this XFL’s history.

While the Defenders showed up in all three facets to defeat the visiting Seattle Dragons, the New York Guardians tamed the Tampa Bay Vipers, 23-3, in what on the surface looked like a deconstruction of Marc Trestman’s offense.

New York quarterback Matt McGloin, he of 13 NFL appearances with the Oakland Raiders, needed only pedestrian statistics to steer the game against the Snakes. The Guardians caused three fumbles and picked off two Aaron Murray passes, holding the Vipers to a meager three points at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon.

In reality, McGloin’s one-yard sneak that broke the seal on the scoreboard a little over five minutes into the game was all that would have been needed. On the ensuing drive, Murray, the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in passing yards (13,166) and passing touchdowns (121), threw an interception from the Guardian 6-yard-line, putting to sleep a pristine scoring opportunity.

Leading a drive that lasted all of three plays to ring in the second quarter, McGloin directed his unit 57 yards forward, capping the expedient march with a 12-yard toss to Colby Pearson.

The Vipers’ frustrations continued soon after with a missed field goal, and the Guardians snatched away another Murray pass, allowing another scoring chance before the half concluded. Kicker Matt McCrane, who hit all three field goal attempts for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 2018 season finale, connected from 49 yards out to give New York a 17-0 lead heading into the break.

Late in the third quarter, the Snakes wasted their best shot at crossing the Guardians’ goal-line, running for negative yardage and throwing two incompletions from five yards out. The Vipers settled for a field goal that did little help to climb out of the double-digit hole.

Much like the Defenders, who put an emphatic finishing touch on their victory with a defensive score, the Guardians scooped a fumble from Viper tight end Nick Truesdell and returned it home, all but ending the game.

Two Viper drives ended on downs in the red zone in the last seven minutes, the Guardians disallowed even a consolation score.

At first glance, the Guardians appear formidable. But statistics may prove that not to be the case.

It wasn’t that Jaime Elizondo’s offense was incapable, not between the 20s, anyway. While New York’s defense was opportunistic, it also allowed Tampa bay to move 394 total yards, the most of any attack in the opening weekend. The Vipers gained 150 of that on the ground, better than all but the St. Louis BattleHawks (191) in their first contest.

The Guardians stiffened in the red zone, allowing no conversions in four tries. If D.C. makes use of splash plays, such as it did Saturday with the trick play that tight end Khari Lee scored on in the third quarter and, later, the 31-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Ross, it won’t have to worry about struggling deep in opposing territory.

New York seemed more perplexed with shifty quarterback and USF product Quinton Flowers, who ran for 34 yards and tossed a 37-yard pass. Cardale Jones, in his own right mobile, picked up 28 yards with his feet and extended plays all afternoon. New York hit the quarterback sacked the quarterback five times Sunday, hitting him another eight. These totals compared only to Houston’s five sacks and 16 hits on Saturday.

D.C.’s Eli Rogers, who after one game sits with the second-most receiving yards in the East, will hope to follow Tampa Bay receiver Daniel Williams’ (9 grabs, 123 yards) lead against Jim Herrmann’s defense. Other than Ross, Jones might be able to find another receiving complement to Rogers.

“In terms of shutting [Tampa Bay] down, we didn’t,” Gilbride said after the Sunday’s game. “In terms of keeping them out of the endzone, we were terrific. You can’t play much better than that.”

Defensively, for the most part, the Guardians head coach may be right.

Gilbride’s rush offense, which with 44 yards produced the lowest output last week, will have to get off—err, on—the ground. The Guardians average drive lasted less than five plays and 23 yards. D.C. proved early, with drives of 13 and 12 plays that each went at least 50 yards, that it could creep down the field. New York was the only team in Week One that had no more than one drive that advanced that far.

On both sides of the ball, the Guardians had trouble on third down. The Vipers offense went 7-of-15 in third down situations, while McGloin and company’s 10% success rate tied Dallas for the worst of the weekend.

Actionnetwork.com projects the Defenders being three-point favorites when betting opens for Saturday’s game, starting at 2 p.m. on ABC.

XFL DC Defenders down Dragons in opening contest

Defenders QB Cardale Jones
Defenders QB Cardale Jones used all three phases to slay the Seattle Dragons. (Credit XFL.com)

The D.C. Defenders (1-0), led by former Ohio State standout passer Cardale Jones, used all three phases to—let me be the first to say it, slay—the Seattle Dragons (0-1), 31-19, at Audi Field in the nation’s capital.

Kicker Tyler Rausa, formerly a Boise State Bronco, pinned the “new” XFL’s first points onto the board with a 34-yard field goal over seven minutes into the opening quarter.

The son of St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” member and 16-year NFL vet Ricky Proehl, Austin Proehl reeled in a 14-yard pass from Memphis Express great Brandon Silvers for the Dragons’—and the XFL’s—first touchdown. After a failed one-point attempt, the scoreboard read 6-3.

Defender safety Rahim Moore Sr. hopped a Silvers pass nearly five minutes into the second quarter, but Jones and the D.C. offense couldn’t capitalize, punting after moving the ball only three yards further.

With 6:56 left in the half, Defender cornerback Elijah Campbell blew in from the left edge around a personal protector and batted a punt attempt from Seattle punter Brock Miller’s boot, then chased the loose football into the hands of linebacker Jonathan Celestin for a touchdown.

Within the second quarter’s final minute, Trey Williams took a checkdown toss from Silvers 13 yards for another Seattle touchdown, this time with a successful one-point conversion to give the Dragons a 13-9 lead. A botched kickoff, however, gave D.C. an opportunity to put a few more points on the board before the halftime.

“All kickoffs have to go beyond the 20-yard-line,” informed viewers when Ernesto Lacayo’s kick fell shy of the mark and Rashad Ross collected it.

The ball, as a rule, was placed at the Dragons’ 45-yard-line. All it took was an eight-yard scramble by Jones to put Rausa in position to pull the game within one, which he did with a 54-yarder that split the uprights.

Both tailback Jhurrell Pressley—a 14-yard off-tackle rush—and former Pittsburgh Steeler Eli Rogers—an over-the-shoulder 27-yard grab—made plays on the opening possession of the second half for the Defenders.

The play of the game, and maybe even the weekend, came next.

Jones snapped the ball from the shotgun and handed it off to the FBS’ all-time leader in rushing yardage, San Diego State product Donnel Pumphery, on what appeared to be a stretch play. The former fourth-round NFL Draft pick then flipped it to Rogers, who gave it back to Jones. The quarterback, making his first start since October of 2015, found tight end Khari Lee, who wheeled past two Dragon defensive backs for a score.

Down 19-13, it took Silvers and Proehl only three plays to connect for another touchdown, this time with the receiver pulling in pass and racing down the sideline for 57 yards.

Three series later, Jones found former Washington Redskin Rashad Ross deep on fourth down to tally what would end up being the game’s go-ahead score.

With 12 minutes left in the game, Silvers would target Proehl once more, who slipped breaking on his route. There to snag the ball was defensive back Bradley Sylve, who returned the ball 69 yards to the endzone, making the score 31-19.

The Dragons would drive to the Defenders’ 3-yard-line on the next possession, but a miscommunicated handoff would lead to another D.C. takeaway.

Seattle’s Silvers was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury with little over a minute left, and B.J. Daniels was unable to convert the following fourth-down play.

“There was just so many unknowns,” Hamilton said, not counting Jones, who finished 16-of-26 with 235 yards and two touchdowns, as one of them. “It was good for our guys to compete against another team and actually tackle people to the ground.”

Eli Rogers, whose mother passed away in the week leading to the game, caught six balls for 73 yards. On the other side, Proehl pulled in five receptions for 88 yards.

“We all love football,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said, bringing to mind the league’s slogan. “We’re dying to have an opportunity to come together and enjoy something that’s been a favorite pastime for us for quite some time.”

“Lord knows, what would we be doing right now if we didn’t have football?” Rahim Moore Sr. said after the game.

“It was important for us to, of course go out and find a way to win the football game,” said Hamilton. “But I talked prior to the game about us having a desired identity. And now I think we have actual fingerprints.”