Coming Full Circle

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After being recruited heavily by both Florida State and West Virginia, Noel Devine will finally get the chance to suit up for the Mountaineers against the home state school he spurned almost three years ago.

With former Seminole Deion Sanders serving as a long-term mentor to the once-troubled Devine when the running back was playing at North Fort Myers High School, many assumed that the speedy star would end up in Tallahassee.

But after a lengthy recruiting process, Devine decided it would be in his best interests to get far away from the troubles of the neighborhood he grew up in.

WVU and the relatively quiet life in Morgantown gave him an opportunity to start fresh while still playing college football at the elite level and featuring him in a fast-paced offense that seemed uniquely suited to his skills.

Those factors tipped the scales in West Virginia's favor, and Devine signed on to play his college football under Rich Rodriguez back in the winter of 2007.

Three years later, Devine has made a name for himself as one of the nation's elite runners. His career to this point will come full circle when he and the rest of the Mountaineers take on FSU in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

"It means a lot to me -- and a lot to our other players from Florida," he said. "I'll have my family coming to support me, and that means a lot. It's a big game."

"I'm excited and I'm ready for it. When the time comes, we're going to see what's going to happen."

While much of the national attention for the New Year's Day match-up has revolved around the retirement of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (who Devine called "a great guy" after dealing with him in the recruitment process), the running back said he wants to send the legendary coach out with a loss.

"We're going to have to come out and give it to him for his last game -- a present," Devine said with a smile. "It means more than that, just because he coached at our school. I'm from Florida, so it's a real big game. Deion went there, and he's going to be here. So I'm excited."

Indeed, Sanders will be in attendance at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to watch his alma mater take on his former protege in the Gator Bowl. Devine said he had not yet spoken to Sanders, who also is a North Fort Myers alumnus.

"That's when I plan to speak to him -- after I score a touchdown or a couple touchdowns," said Devine, grinning.

If the junior is to make good on that promise of a big game, he will have to deal with a Seminole defense that features speedy players all over the field. Still, FSU has given up plenty of points and big plays this season, which is largely the reason for its 6-6 record.

"I think (Florida State's defense) compares to Syracuse," said Devine, drawing a parallel with a Big East foe WVU found plenty of success against.

The Mountaineers led the Orange 27-0 at halftime of their Oct. 10 matchup at the Carrier Dome and went on to win 34-13.

"Syracuse had good linebackers," Devine continued. "They had good speed to their defense. I think our team is ready and we have speed also. We're going to go out and use it."

While West Virginia has plenty of quickness with Devine and other players like Jock Sanders in its offense, it may try to counter FSU's speed with a bit of power running between the tackles.

"I'll just take whatever they give me; north-south, fast, whatever," Devine said. "It depends on the play-calling and what I see at the time."

The running back will be hoping for a big performance in front of many friends and family. Devine said he is hoping to get a little over 20 tickets for the game by asking players from other areas who may not be using their full allotments.

One of those family members in attendance will be Devine's grandmother, who has never gotten the chance to see him play in person.

Added to that pressure to perform in front of loved ones, the junior said he will be looking to avoid another loss to a school from his home state. South Florida defeated Devine and WVU 30-19 earlier this season.

"We know we can't lose to another Florida team," he said. "We don't want to hear that we can't beat a Florida team because they're more physical or whatever they think. They think they're better than our team."

"It's that competitive part, because I'm from Florida. They think players up north can't play, so it's a matter of getting our players ready."

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