Relatively speaking, West Virginia running back Noel Devine is a very young man. Yet, when compared to the rest of the running backs taking part in WVU's preseason camp, the diminutive but talented sophomore may as well be Father Time.
On the heels of a standout freshman season -- including a heroic performance in January's Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma -- Devine is poised to begin the 2008 campaign as the starter at running back for the first edition of Bill Stewart's Mountaineers.
While Devine no doubt would have made a fight for the starting job even if the likes of Adrian Murrell, Robert Walker and Ira Rodgers were in camp, his presence in the backfield is literally the only sure thing West Virginia has at tailback.
Gone is three-year standout Steve Slaton, a third-round choice of the Houston Texans back in April, and veteran Ed Collington, who despite not having the most eye-popping numbers during his Mountaineer career, had nevertheless been around the program for three years.
Behind Devine is the talented but inexperienced trio of Mark Rodgers, Terence Kerns and Zach Hulce. Considering the three newcomers have seen absolutely no snaps at the collegiate level, the contributions of No. 7 are essential if WVU is to continue its offensive output -- particularly on the ground -- of years past. Luckily for the Mountaineers, Devine is going through camp with a healthy outlook on his role for 2008.
" I have to help my team the best I can, and fill my role the best that I can," he said. "I have to try to take pressure off of Pat. With pass blocking and running plays too, I have to do the best that I can."
With Slaton in the fold last season, Devine was able to transition into his role as a contributor at a proper pace. That's to say that WVU's ground game was so good even without him knowing the offense that when he eventually got comfortable with the playbook, the Mountaineer rushing attack was that much more dangerous.
However, with a tweaked version of the spread offense under first-year coordinator Jeff Mullen, neither Devine nor the Mountaineers can afford the deliberate pace learning the playbook which was used one year ago. To his credit, the ultra-talented Fort Myers, Fla. native recognizes the sense of urgency which exists in regard to nailing down his role.
"Last year, I shared time with Steve," he acknowledged. "This year, I have to play a lot bigger role in the offense. So, I've just been getting in shape.
"Always, I'm trying to do extra," he continued. "I'm trying to do more than everybody else does. I want to be above average and work harder than everybody else. There are always people out there working harder than you're working, so I want to work harder than anyone else."
Another way in which Devine is helping the Mountaineers is by walking the aforementioned newcomers through their first preseason camp. Having just been through the same rookie experience himself this time last year, Devine offers his understudies a fresh but enlightening perspective on adjusting to big-time college football.
"Mainly, just help them with the plays and help them get comfortable. Basically, I'm here to welcome them to the offense," he said, speaking like a seasoned veteran. "I keep telling them that I was the same way that they were, and that they just need to relax. If they learn and study the playbook, they'll be alright."
Certainly, the progression of Rogers, Hulce and Kerns will be watched carefully during fall camp. And if they choose to follow the blueprint for success laid out for them by their talented mentor, then West Virginia's much-vaunted running game will continue to be precisely that.