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COLUMN: Noel Devine overcomes all odds to become WVU Sports Hall-of-Famer

MORGANTOWN — Sitting in my public speaking class my junior year at Musselman High, I did everything in my power to sneak over to the desktop in the back of the room to see if this 5-star stud running back from Florida committed to WVU.

Rumors were circling, but Florida State, in his own back yard, seemed like the obvious choice.

Noel Devine, of North Fort Myers High School, went viral on YouTube before the term “going viral” was really a thing. In YouTube’s infancy in 2006, Devine was still able to collect hundreds of thousands of views, and for good reason. His shiftiness, balance, lower-body strength and speed were unheard of for someone at the high school level, and he made the competition look like they were standing still or made up of toddlers learning to walk.

When Devine ultimately signed with the Mountaineers in April 2007, that same desktop during my third period speech class likely contributed a few hundred of those views on Devine’s prep highlights. The well-known WVU content creator dougitydog also put out a video around the same time, featuring Devine, as well as current highlights of his future college teammates Pat White and Steve Slaton, to the tune of DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over,” another personal favorite at the time (it can still be found on YouTube).

With expectations through the roof, the story of Devine’s rocky childhood was well known at the time, and he was going over 1,000 miles from home in Florida to Morgantown. Not many knew what the final outcome would be, but there was no denying his talent, and he was expected to play alongside White and Slaton in Rich Rodriguez’s vaunted spread offense.

While things took a major turn throughout his career, Devine will be honored as a inductee into the 2021 WVU Sports Hall of Fame Class, the university announced Saturday. He is joined by fellow former gridders Dale Farley (1968-70) and Mike Fox (1986-89).

Always undersized at 5-foot-7 and less than 180 pounds, Devine’s story ended up being a success story, filled with perseverance and overcoming all odds. His father died of AIDS when Noel was less than a year old. Noel was 11 years old when his mother suffered the same fate.

Devine later admitted he didn’t know his real dad and found out his stepfather wasn’t his biological father when he was 8. His mother also fought an addiction to crack cocaine throughout Noel’s childhood. His maternal grandmother and legal guardian was arrested for drug trafficking and spent 2 1/2 years in prison. He witnessed the shooting death of one of his best friends at 15.

After moving to Texas for a while to stay with NFL legend Deion Sanders, Devine returned to Florida without telling Sanders, and fathered two children with two different women. Sanders tried to formally adopt Devine, but with his children in Florida, he did not want to be away from them in Texas.

All of this was before the age of 17.

Still, Devine’s accomplishments on the football field were incredible, rushing for 6,854 yards rushing and 92 touchdowns in four years. He wanted out of Florida for a healthy start, and with WVU’s success at the time, he ended up signing with the Mountaineers.

The embattled high school star began his upward trajectory, improving his grades, which allowed him to forgo prep school and enroll at WVU in time to become a freshman sensation, doing what he set out to do by playing alongside White and spelling Slaton. Devine finished the 2007 season with 627 yards and six touchdowns in an 11-2 campaign, culminating in a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

Devine was involved in an incident outside of a Morgantown club, but a fine and community service put that to bed.

However, Devine suffered another blow when Rodriguez and his high-powered spread attack left WVU for Michigan. With a skillset that matched what Rodriguez wanted perfectly, not many knew what Devine was going to do.

The Mountaineers hired Bill Stewart and the two had a solid relationship built on trust, so Devine stuck around and played under Stewart for the next three years, albeit in an offense that was more suited for a traditional running back.

Devine finished his career at WVU in 2010, finishing with 4,315 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground and also had 98 catches for 710 yards and two scores through the air.

Despite his accomplishments with the Mountaineers, Devine was not drafted, and a career in the NFL was not meant to be. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but fumbling issues and injuries closed that chapter quickly.

In 2016, Devine returned to WVU to finish his Regents Bachelor of Arts degree and was able to attain it in December 2019.

Now, Devine owns and runs DevineSpeed LLC, a speed training business where he trains numerous athletes from different sports. He also works as a substitute teacher in North Fort Myers and as a guest teacher in the Lee Court District, and works as an assistant football coach where he became an internet sensation, at North Fort Myers High.

Most importantly, he is working with his son, Andre (15), who is a sophomore in high school now and wearing his dad’s previously retired No. 7 — one of his children he didn’t want to be away from when they were born. The other is daughter Desirae (16), who is a softball star, according to Devine. He has three other children, Destyni (13), Noel Jr. (9) and Noah (5), and is married to his wife, Candace.

The player no one thought would make it will now have his name forever established among the greats at WVU.

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