He may be the most recognized and least understood recruit in America for the last three years. Scout.com’s number one rated running back is Noel Devine ever since videos of his long touchdown runs and physics-defying moves started popping up on the internet during his sophomore season everybody has wanted to know more about the reclusive kid from North Fort Myers, Florida.
Tuesday, Devine was named to the East team for the US Army All-American Bowl Game which will be played January 6 in San Antonio, Texas at the Alamo Dome. Devine accepted the invitation to play in the game before a crowd of teammates and classmates at his high school.
Devine has become somewhat of a legend in North Fort Myers, a suburb of Fort Myers in fast-growing Southwest Florida. He is only 5-8, 170, but he does things that can’t be described and he’s been doing that ever since he took up the game.
“We just say he has some God given talent,” said NFM Head Coach James Iandoli. “He is probably like a Barry Sanders or a Tony Dorsett when he was in his college years. At his height and weight (Dorsett) was also a very vertical player.”
Devine gained 2,148 yards and scored 30 touchdowns while leading North Fort Myers into the state quarter-finals where they lost to Manatee. Iandoli would have loved to put the ball in Devine’s hands 30 or more times per game but every defense was stacked to stop him so he had to tweak the offense a bit.
“We run a hybrid wing-T this year,” the coach said. “Last year everyone keyed on Noel. We featured him as a single back in a zone type offense. This year we were able to feature him as a decoy, as a back out of the backfield catching and also as a feature back. He still got us 20 carries.”
As for college, Devine’s coach believes the spread offense is the one that will showcase his talents the best. Devine is also a good pass catcher that could leave the backfield to line up as a receiver if an offense wants to go five wide.
“I definitely feel he would be his best in a zone type offense and a spread to get him out in space like West Virginia or a Florida,” Coach Iandoli said. “He is an unbelievable pass catcher as well.”
In San Antonio, Devine will be facing the best athletes in America. The Army game brings together the nations top 80 players for one week of practice and a game. Coach Iandoli thinks Devine will represent the state of Florida well.
“I wish the kids had more time to practice, because it’s so hard to have time to gel, but I think he will do fine,” he said.
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As high profile as Devine is as a player, he is virtually unknown because he rarely speaks to the media. That doesn’t stop the internet rumor mills from cranking out stories, however. Perhaps some are true. Others are fantasy, pure exaggeration. Of course, the stories only make the legend grow.
It is a fact that both of Devine’s parents passed away before he reached his teenage years. He’s lived with various folks since then but he has now settled in with Liz Harlow. She just glows when speaking about this talented young man.
“He is a very humble, respectful and quiet child until he gets to know you,” Harlow said. “He is a really terrific kid. He is really respectful and always a yes ma’am, no ma’am kind of kid. He is doing his best to get through school and graduate.”
There are plenty of stories and Harlow believes most are without foundation. She hears all the bad stories and she sees how hurt he is by all the misinformation.
“He is a very misunderstood kid,” Ms. Harlow said. “Honestly, I just put all that stuff in God’s hands and let Him deal with it because we know in the end, the truth will come out. It is one of those things I learned to ignore. In the beginning I used to get all upset about it, but like you said he is a very misunderstood person. The things bother him that are said, they very much bother him, but he knows it’s just people not knowing who he is or what he is about.”
Harlow’s son, Ronnie, and Devine have become best friends. The two go everywhere together. When the two need a break from all the fuss and the negativity, they head for the water.
“They sit at the house and play video games most of the time,” Harlow said. “How much they love that … Robbie, Noel, and all the boys. Robbie and Noel are best friends. They go fishing and that seems to be his relaxation. I noticed when he seems to get really stressed he goes fishing. He likes those quiet times. He needs a break from all the talk that people say about him without really knowing him. The people that run their mouths don’t know anything.”
Harlow says that Devine has become a goal-oriented person. He now knows what he needs to do to succeed and he is busy accomplishing those things.
“He’s going to go to college, although I am not sure what kind of degree he is going to take, but he will get his education,” she said. “He wants to go to NFL but he understands he needs a degree. We all know in our heart that he is going to make it and all the negative talk will go by the way side. In the past he had some grade issues, but he has improved drastically this year. He has his goals set and will achieve them.”
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I had a chance to sit down and do a short video interview with Devine after the Army ceremony. The soft spoken Devine answered several questions including how he does what he does, what he is looking forward to in San Antonio, and just who he is favoring as his college choices.