“Me, personally? I feel like my mom is my angel. And that’s why I do some of the things that I do on the field. You know, because, at times, like – just watching my highlights, I can’t pinpoint what I was thinking then. I can’t tell you how I got out of some of the things that I got out of.” ~ Noel Divine
I was a junior in high school when my friend instant-messaged me a YouTube video of Noel Devine, some Florida-based high school running back. If this were ten years prior, his name wouldn’t have made its way from the Sunshine State to Ohio. But then the Internet happened, high school players became famous and fans began clamoring for their schools to collect as many blue chips as possible.
Words are really just a waste of time, so you’ll have to watch (or re-watch) the glory in its entirety:
The mixtape showed a level of athletic ability that NCAA 2014 couldn’t replicate. Dudes were embarrassed. Would-be high school dreams were mocked. Naturally, this was going to translate to the college game, and maybe, some day, the NFL.
This success came on the tail end of tragedy. Devine was three months old when he lost his father to AIDS. His mom would meet the same fate 11 years after. I was also 11 when my mom passed from cancer. I can’t speak for exactly what Noel thought. Yet I’ve never felt pain like that before. I questioned God a lot and generally became reclusive. But losing both parents so soon is something I hope very few people can relate to.
Still, thanks to a community effort (and some mentoring from Deion Sanders), Devine found his niche on the gridiron. Ranked sixth overall in the class of 2007, Devine chose West Virginia over Alabama, Florida, Florida State and LSU. He had a stellar college career: 1,289 yards (6.3 YPC) and 4 touchdowns as a sophomore, 1,465 yards (6.1 YPC) and 13 touchdowns as a junior, and 934 yards (4.5 YPC) and 6 touchdowns as senior.
That slightly underwhelming senior year snowballed into other setbacks. Minor injuries took a toll on his play. Less-than-favorable size and combine measurements (a 4.45 40 time is not what scouts were hoping for) also plummeted him from Can’t-Miss Land to the dreaded “undrafted” bin. The closest Devine ever got to the NFL was a stint on Philadelphia’s training camp roster. He’s currently bouncing between the CFL and UFL, trying to prove to the world that he can still make a jaw drop with ease.
Whatever does happen, as The Long Run (linked below) points out, his name will mean something to the folks of Fort Myers, where grown men still trip over themselves attempting capture Devine’s magic in words. Never an easy task.
The rest of us shouldn’t forget, either. When that day does come – when he hangs up his cleats and calls it a career, the highlights will remain. Reminders that, every once in a while, an athlete walks through the door to challenge our perception of what is and isn’t possible.