Noel Devine stood in the stands at Sarasota Riverview last week with some friends barely able to process what he had just seen.
It’s hard to shock the former North Fort Myers High standout considering he was the one dropping jaws with video game-like runs which have been immortalized on YouTube over the last decade.
But as North rising junior running back Zaquandre White cut but back to the left, threw a linebacker off him, bounced off a big hit before cutting back to the opposite sideline, breaking 12 tackles in all and finishing off a 41-yard touchdown run by hurdling a diving defender, Devine was almost speechless.
“All I could say was ‘Wow,'” Devine recalled. “I yelled to (White’s) father that the run reminded me of someone from my generation.”
White’s run in the 14-7 spring game victory exploded on social media this week and has drawn comparisons to the Devine phenomenon.
It was all a result of the Red Knights running the wrong play. The 6-1, 206-pound Florida State commit had to cut back left to adjust to the blocking scheme.
“It was an impressive combination of strength and agility,” North coach Earnest Graham said. “When most guys make a big run it’s them outrunning guys. With this one, Zaquandre reversed field and had to throw a guy off him and he took a pretty big hit. Riverview is a 7A team. These guys can really hit. He also showed good flexibility. The most important thing was his will to finish the run.”
On his way to becoming Lee County’s all-time leading rusher with 6,842 yards and 92 touchdowns, Devine, who is holding a youth football skills camp Saturday at the Bay Oaks Recreation Center in Fort Myers Beach, filled stadiums around Southwest Florida with fans waiting for him to engineer a highlight more impressive than the previous week.
His speed and elusiveness made him one of the top college recruits in the nation in 2007. He chose West Virginia where he rushed for 4,317 yards and 29 touchdowns over his four years.
High School highlights like his kick return at the Army All-American game, his three spin moves against Fort Myers and a screen pass against Mariner where he emerged from two different piles coincided with the rise of YouTube.
Devine can’t imagine the attention he would receive on Twitter and Instagram if he was shredding high school defenses like that today.
“I believe the internet paved the way for young guys to show what they’re doing on the field,” Devine said. “It helps them market themselves. I told Zaquandre you haven’t done anything until you get ESPN’s attention.”
White first learned the video went viral when he was tagged in an Instagram photo titled “Mad Jukes.” Despite the video being tweeted out by ESPN, he knew he had a long way to go before reaching Devine’s level.
“He just had some incredible runs,” White said of Devine, who he met a few years ago while playing Pop Warner and grew closer to in high school. White is now a regular at Devine’s home.
Devine, a special education teacher’s aide at North, has worked out with White on multiple occasions and sees a bit of himself.
“He has the potential to be one of the next greats,” Devine said. “It’s important to stay humble and stay focused on your goals and what you want to accomplish. Focus on being a great son and a great teammate.”
White soaks in as much of the advice as he can.
“He just wants me to keep going for greatness,” White said. “I’ve learned from him to keep my head straight. I know he went through some things in high school and college. I just want to keep my head straight and have the right attitude.”
At a crossroads in his career, Devine, who went undrafted by the NFL in 2011 and has battled injuries in the Canadian Football League, is seeking another opportunity in professional football.
In the meantime, he is trying to impart as much wisdom as he can to aspiring football players in Southwest Florida, many of whom never saw him play. All they have is YouTube to recognize his dominance.
His camp, which costs $25, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to ages 8 through 17. It includes combine testing as well as individual position instruction.
“I want everyone to just come out and compete. I’m looking to teach the fundamentals and the little tools of football that helped me,” Devine said. “I see how far football brought me as a man. I want these kids to give their best whether it’s in the classroom or on the field. I’d like to teach them to be a total athlete and professional.”
As for White, Devine said last week’s run is far from his last.
“These teams better watch out for this kid,” Devine said. “They say great running backs show up in this area once every 10 years. It’s getting close to that time again.”
School: North Fort Myers
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 6-1, 206 pounds
Offers: Florida State (Committed), FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisville, Miami, South Florida, Tennessee