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Catch him if you can

Enigmatic Devine highly coveted as signing day nears

Posted: Friday February 2, 2007 7:54PM; Updated: Friday February 2, 2007 10:59PM
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Making Noel Devine
Noel Devine first gained national attention when a Web site called SunshinePreps.net posted a highlight video from his 2003 freshman season. Some of the runs were so flabbergasting, "I wondered whether it had been doctored," said Rivals.com's Mike Farrell. The video quickly spread among other recruiting Web sites, and now, numerous Devine highlight reels can be found on YouTube.

Among them:

Clip One |  Clip Two |  Clip Three

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Anyone who's seen one of his legendary Internet highlight reels knows well Noel Devine's exploits as a high-school football player. Anyone who saw his 88-yard kick return in last month's U.S. Army All-America Bowl knows of his off-the-charts speed and explosiveness. And the people who evaluate such things for a living speak of Devine with idol-like adulation.

"He's the best high school player I've ever seen, and that includes Reggie Bush," says Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

"You look at him on film, your jaw drops," says Scout.com's Jamie Newberg. "It's like watching Barry Sanders."

Yet here we are, just days from Wednesday's National Signing Day, and you'll barely find a peep about Devine's recruitment on the recruiting sites and the message boards. No one knows where Devine, who, according to Rivals.com, ran for 2,148 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at North Fort Myers (Fla.) High last season, is going to play college football next season. Check that -- know one knows if Devine will play college football, period.

He could be lining up alongside West Virginia star Steve Slaton next year in what would unquestionably be the fastest backfield ever assembled. He could become the elite playmaker Florida State has been missing for years. He could be the star new Alabama coach Nick Saban rides to glory.

Or it could be none of the above. Nobody knows.

In an industry where it's not uncommon for the biggest-name prospects to receive 30 to 40 calls a night from coaches and reporters, Devine has been quoted publicly exactly once in the past several months -- and the information gathered in that brief interview only served to cause more confusion.

Devine is, as SuperPrep's Allen Wallace calls him, "an enigma within an enigma."

"A recruit who's that notable and has that much exposure ... would normally generate tremendous interest," said Wallace, "but the recruiting world has been literally held at bay by our inability to ever speak with him. It's his right to do that, but it's very unusual. Usually kids want publicity."

Suffice to say, Devine is not your usual kid.

As detailed in a New York Times profile last summer, both of Devine's parents died of complications from AIDS, his father when Devine was 3 months old, his mother when he was 11. His grandmother became his legal guardian, but the two do not get along, and Devine opted at one point to live instead with the parents of a Pop Warner teammate. In December 2004, he witnessed the murder of a close friend.

Former NFL All-Pro Deion Sanders, himself a North Fort Myers graduate, became a father figure to Devine shortly thereafter and at one point came within days of legally adopting him. Devine moved to Dallas in the summer of 2005 to live with Sanders and his family; a week later he took the keys to Sanders' Cadillac Escalade, drove himself to DFW Airport and flew back to Ft. Myers, where he now reportedly lives with his girlfriend's family.

Farrell, who spent three days at North Ft. Myers last August, describes Devine as a quiet kid who's extremely uncomfortable with the attention that's been heaped on him by coaches and media.

"He's not a bad kid. He's been through a lot," Farrell said. "The first time I saw him in the locker room, he looked up and it was like I was looking into the eyes of a 35-year-old."

There's more. Devine, 18, is the father of two children. Organizers for the aforementioned U.S. Army all-star game initially left him off the roster due to suspensions from school and his poor academic standing. The latter has been the subject of constant speculation in the recruiting world, and in fact Devine's relatively low ranking is due largely to the assumption he won't be able to become eligible to play next season. Most major programs backed off recruiting Devine over concerns either about his academics or his "baggage." While other hot-shot recruits around the country jetted off to visit Florida and Michigan and USC last fall, Devine reportedly visited prep schools Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, with Sanders, and Milford (N.Y.) Academy. College fans who follow recruiting closely focused their attention on more realistic targets.

But now, suddenly, Devine is looking at colleges, and his coach, James Iandoli, said Friday that Devine "has got a legit shot" of becoming eligible. "When he came back from Milford," said Farrell, "he was more motivated than ever to qualify [academically]."

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