A New Noel

Already an upperclassman, the Mountaineers' star running back is readily adopting more of a leadership role this offseason. It's a clear focus on where he has been in the past, and where he hopes to be in the future, that has motivated him to have his best summer yet.

Already a physical specimen, halfback Noel Devine appears to be even more muscular and well-defined than he has been in previous years.

That hardly appears to be the only change the rising junior has undergone.

Devine, typically somewhat quiet and reserved in interview sessions in years past, sat down on one of the plush couches in the lobby area of the Milan Puskar Center on Thursday afternoon and opened up on a variety of topics surrounding the West Virginia football program this offseason.

His suddenly vocal nature apparently has translated to the weight room and the practice field, where the diminutive Devine has quickly become a leader.

"It's way different (than past years)," said Devine. "It's got to be different. I feel like I'm going to be a key player this year, and I just had to wait my turn to step up. I've been on teams that had a lot of leaders."

"I just had to wait my turn. I feel like somebody has to push the team, and me working hard motivates other guys to work hard -- and to having fun while you're doing it, because if you're going to be here doing it, you might as well have fun. Just go hard. This is the time to go hard, the offseason. You work hard now and it will pay off later."

How much the running back's weight room work, which is visually evident, pays off on the football field remains to be seen. Devine is hesitant to put too much stock in the results he sees during mid-summer 7-on-7 drills.

"In 7-on-7, you can make moves here and there," he explained. "With 11 guys on the field, you've got to make one move and keep going, but with 7-on-7, you've got a couple of chances to make a move. You can get better with that, but you can also take a step back because you're making too many moves."

Even so, the athletic coaching education major's increased work in offseason strength and conditioning has been noticed by teammates and coaches alike. Devine was chosen as one of the team's "Iron Mountaineers" for his work in those areas this spring.

That has continued through the summer, as he focuses on the present and paints a clear picture of what he hopes his future will be like.

"I just approach things differently," Devine said. "I've seen a lot of the players I've played with and what they can do at the next level. It's been a blessing to play with them, because I know what I have to do.

"This offseason, I'm more mature now. I've been here long enough to know what I have to do and do it right."

While that next level may be a motivating factor for almost every college football player, the chance to one day play as a professional would be exceptionally sweet for Devine.

The story of the star running back's rough life in his hometown of Fort Myers, Fla., has been well-chronicled. It's a desire to make a better life for his family, which already includes three children, that drives Devine to work even harder than he has in the past.

"Just coming from where I've come from and seeing what I've seen made me the person I am," he said. "That environment made me tough. All the things I went through were like a learning lesson and it's a blessing that I got to move forward. The area around Fort Myers is rough, and it's something you want to get out of and get your family out of."

"I'm just trying to stay focused and stay humble and keep pushing forward. I'm leaving everything in God's hands, and whatever happens happens. I'm happy with being up here, seeing what I've seen and being away from home."

To help make his professional football dreams a reality, Devine could use the opportunity to find open field and make the kind of highlight-reel plays he became famous for in high school and early in his WVU career.

Those chances curtailed somewhat last year, and the then-sophomore only found the end zone four times during the season. His average yardage dropped from a staggering 8.6 per carry as a freshman to 6.3 per rush as a sophomore.

To make the big gains possible, however, Devine needs space on the field. A young, relatively inexperienced offensive line will be tasked with creating those holes, but the junior does not seem concerned.

"I believe in our coaching staff and I believe in our players," Devine said. "This is where we work at and this is when we get our work in, this time of year. Hopefully, (the offensive linemen) learned from the veterans we had and they come in ready to play."

"It's been the hardest I've ever seen our team work, this year in the offseason. So I'm not too concerned. I'm just ready for it to start."

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