By Tim Goodenow for MSNsportsNET.com
December 28, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – West Virginia University running back Noel Devine has a big decision coming up, and it's not what Christmas gift to return or which bowl gear items he can pass on to family and friends.
Noel Devine takes in a practice Monday afternoon at University of North Florida. All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
It’s a much bigger decision, one that Devine will wait until after the season to decide on his future.
A junior, Devine is still debating whether to enter the National Football League (NFL) Draft or return for his final year at WVU. He has averaged 6.4 yards per carry during his three-year career and has put together back-to-back seasons of 1,289 and 1,297 yards rushing.
He said he'd prefer to remain focused on Friday's game against Florida State in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl instead of his future plans.
“I haven’t done anything,” said Devine, owner of 10 career 50-plus yard rushes.
Prior to breaking for the holiday, he had yet to file paperwork with the NFL Collegiate Advisory Committee to find out his status for the April draft. The information is designed to help underclassmen determine if they should stick around for their senior season or if there is a market for their skills in the pros.
“Whatever falls in place and whatever is right,” said Devine. “I’ll leave it in God’s hands.”
The unanimous first-team all-Big East selection rushed for 100 or more yards in six games, including a career-high 220 yards against Big 12 foe Colorado. Devine is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands, drawing NFL comparisons to Darren Sproles and Felix Jones.
“Right now my mindset is focused on coming back and winning a national championship,” said Devine. “But who knows? This game can mean a lot, but right now I’m just focused on coming back. It can be so much better next year than this year.”
Devine refers to the loads of young talent accumulated over the past few years, along with the current offensive two-deep roster listing only six seniors.
"There's a lot of things I'd like to accomplish, a lot of records," said Devine when asked of what’s left to achieve in a Mountaineer uniform.
He stands sixth in career rushing touchdowns (22) and fifth on the all-time rushing list (3,213 yards) where he would likely finish second or challenge Avon Cobourne for the top spot with a fourth season at WVU.
While Devine is leaving the door open for either option regarding his future, his immediate focus lies on beating Florida State – a team he knows quite a bit about.
“There is a lot on the line going into this game just being from Florida,” said the Ft. Myers native. “They (Florida State) and West Virginia were the final two schools that I had to pick from.”
A YouTube sensation coming out of high school, Devine was content with his decision to leave the state and play for the Old Gold and Blue.
“I liked it here better,” recalled Devine of his recruitment by WVU. “The offense, the environment, the coaching staff; I just felt welcome here.
“Plus I just wanted to get out of Florida. I just didn’t want to stay in Florida and keep going back home and getting in trouble. I just wanted to get away.”
Devine also had several conversations with legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden.
“He was a great guy with great character. He was so relaxed and calm. It felt like I knew him already,” recalled Devine of FSU’s recruitment.
Despite growing up in a football-crazed state, he never pledged allegiance to one team or another.
“It’s funny because I never really liked watching football (early on). I wasn’t a fan of any particular team, just liked some key players on different teams,” said Devine. “But everyone else pretty much rooted Florida, Florida State or Miami.”
Devine is looking forward to lacing up his cleats and winning a 10th game for his senior teammates. Yet, he also wants to put on a show for his family and friends on a nationally televised game in his home state.
“The majority of my family wants to come to the game, so I’ve been busy trying to get them tickets,” laughed Devine. “They haven’t been able to attend too many games (in my career). So, it’s going to be special.”
The stage has been set for Friday’s Gator Bowl to push Devine into the NFL Draft or serve as a catalyst for another brilliant season in Morgantown. Regardless of how it plays out, this selfless player has earned every bit of creating a win-win situation.