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Mountaineer twosome creates opportunities on both sides of the ball

Sep. 01, 2010 @ 03:05 PM

For three years, Marshall University defender Mario Harvey has been chasing that little blur of blue and gold known as Noel Devine. "He's always been shifty," Harvey said. "He's never changed. He's always stepped up his game even more every year.

"He's a hard player and a hard runner. He's just going to go out there and battle it out, you know?"

At this stage of his career, it's worth betting the whole nation knows -- Devine is as slick as it gets when it comes to running backs.

Small in stature -- he's only 5-foot-8, 180-pounds -- but large in the spotlight, West Virginia's sparkplug has made more than a name for himself during his three-plus years stay in Morgantown.

He's been labeled "a young Barry Sanders" by Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, a player with a gift he "hasn't seen in a lot of NFL players" by Deion Sanders and a "YouTube sensation" by ESPN.

Tab him a thorn in Marshall's side, too.

In 2007, Devine made his Huntington debut with 76 yards and two touchdowns on five carries in a 48-23 Mountaineer win at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

In 2008, back in his Milan Puskar Stadium, Devine went off against Marshall, scooting for a team-high 125 yards a score on 14 carries in a 27-3 win.

Last year, he accounted for 123 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in a 24-7 victory.

"He's a pinball and he tries to bounce off of you if you don't wrap up," Harvey said. "If you put a lick on him you're going to have to wrap him up -- grab his legs or something. You know he's short and you have to get low and just hang on to him."

Getting just a piece of No. 7 has been a difficult task for all of Devine's opponents since his arrival to the college football scene.

He entered his senior season with more than 3,300 career rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. His accolades include two All-Big East selections and spots on national watch lists, including for the Maxwell Award, among others.

Devine hails from Ft. Myers, Fla., just a tad over two hours across the state from Ft. Lauderdale's J.T. Thomas, the 6-2, 225-pound linebacker and unquestioned leader of the Mountaineer defense.

From his jersey to his pads to his background, Thomas is blue and gold to the core.

His father, J.T. Sr., was a WVU linebacker from 1994-95, and was ironically recruited by then-Mountaineer assistant and current Marshall head coach Doc Holliday.

Holliday reportedly tried to get the younger Thomas to come to Florida during his days as a Gator assistant, but he chose to come more north instead.

And WVU coach Bill Stewart has been happy to have him.

Entering his redshirt year, Thomas had racked up 160 tackles, 20 for loss, three sacks and had picked off a pair of passes in a prestigious career that was highlighted by an All-Big East nod last season.

"Being here, playing the same position as my dad at the same school, everything is good," Thomas told ESPN.com. "Everything is special right now."

Andrew Ramspacher is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Comments may be e-mailed to him at aramspacher@herald-dispatch.com.