SAN ANTONIO, Texas - No one has really ever clocked him, literally or figuratively. North Fort Meyers, Fla. running back Noel Devine is elusive, fast and hard to hit. And if his 87-yard kickoff return in the second half of the U.S. Army All American Bowl is any indication, Devine is going to be something special to watch in college.
Devine doesn't have an accurate 40-yard dash time to give you. Nor does his head coach, Jim Iandoli or anyone else in the country. But everyone knows one thing - he's fast, very fast. And while he hasn't been on the clock yet, he also hasn't been clocked yet despite his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame.
"You can't get a good hit on him," said Washington (D.C.) Ballou defensive tackle Marvin Austin who tried his best throughout practice all week. "I tackled him a few times but I never really hit him. He's so quick and he uses his size to his advantage."
Devine's running style is like Barry Sanders meets jackrabbit. Sanders was short, but he would still tower over Devine and one of his legs would likely be thicker than Devine's waist. But when it comes to acceleration, the ability to cut on a dime and starting and stopping, Devine is as close to Sanders running style as anyone has been in some time.
"I'm not sure how fast he is but it's a fast I've never seen before," said Austin. "He's got to be in the 4.19 to 4.20 range, it's amazing. He's the fastest player I've ever seen."
To Devine, it's no big deal. It's the way he's always run, from zero to lightning quick in seconds.
"When I see a hole, I just hit it as hard as I can," Devine said. "And if there isn't a hole I'll try to create one or wait until one opens."
This is where Devine is special. He dips his body into traffic the way vacationers dip their toes into the swimming pool. He'll go into the fury, see if there's anything there and just as quickly jump back out and work his way along the line of scrimmage to find an opening. Does it always work? No, it certainly doesn't and it can lead to lost yardage. However, if you let him do it enough, he'll break one on you. The kickoff return just flashed his speed and ability.
"I just saw that there was an opening to the right and I went towards it as fast as I could," said Devine. "Then I broke it to the outside and tried to cut it back but I stumbled a little bit."
West quarterback Jimmy Clausen was one of the players watching Devine's return from the sidelines.
"He was flying and if he didn't stumble he would have scored," said Clausen. "The guys on our sideline were pretty amazed at his speed. I've seen Reggie Bush in person twice and now I've seen Noel Devine and I couldn't tell you who's faster. I'd like to see a race between the two though."
While others can't stop talking about him, Devine doesn't talk much. However, his blazing speed and surprising toughness speaks for him.
"He earned the respect of everyone on our defense," said East defensive tackle Joseph Barksdale. "He's tougher than you'd think because he's so small."
"He's strong, a lot stronger than you expect," said Austin. "And he's tough, he'll run it up the middle, take a hit from guys twice his size and still pop up like nothing happened."
It's puzzling to many why Devine only got four touches for the East in the All American Bowl, especially when you consider he averaged 22.5 yards-per-touch for a struggling East offense. The same can be said for another diminutive running back for the East, Chris Rainey, who only had four touches.
Throughout the week, the question was asked by many who watched the East practice. Who is faster, Devine or Rainey?
"Devine by far," said East wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who saw Devine fly past him like he was standing still on the kickoff return. "Words can't describe speed like that, I've never seen or been near anything like it."
The night before the game, West linebacker Chris Gallippo and West defensive end Everson Griffin had heard about Devine's speed and, in typical trash talk style, were talking about how hard they were going to hit Devine. Each took turns describing how they'd clock the little man on the East.
After they finished talking, I asked Gallippo if he really thought he'd get a clean shot on Devine. His answer spoke volumes about how much respect Devine has earned from players around the country who have seen him before.
"Nah," answered Gallippo, who hit pretty much everything else on Saturday in earning MVP honors at the game. "I just like to think I could hit him."
Devine is currently exploring prep school options including Milford Academy and Hargrave Military. As for schools, he's quiet about the programs he's interested in.
"I'll probably visit LSU when I get back home and I also like West Virginia, Florida and Florida State."
Whoever can catch him long enough to recruit him could be getting college football's next superstar.
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