Learning to Play Again
Nov. 24, 2012
Only one player on the University of Memphis football team has played in every offensive play over the last two seasons. Senior Jordan Devey enters the final game of his college career having never missed a snap on the offensive line since joining the Tigers from Snow College out of Utah last season.
"He's an unbelievable asset to our program," said Memphis head coach Justin Fuente. "He's bought into everything we have been trying to get accomplished since the day we stepped on campus. He's a great person and a great worker. He's been huge for us."
Amazingly, the Phil Steele Midseason All-Conference USA Team selection never played high school football. In fact, it had been close to a seven-year break from the sport when he walked on at Snow College in 2009.
With only three years of experience prior to the start of the season, Devey positioned himself as a leader on the Tigers' offensive line in 2012. He has played every position but center on the line at Memphis with the majority of the snaps coming at left tackle.
"I've always worked as hard as I can and had faith that if it's supposed to work out, it'll work out," Devey said. "If it's not, at least I'm working hard and I'll benefit in the end from it."
Today, Devey will play at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for the last time. He and 15 other seniors will be honored prior to kickoff as the Tigers take on Southern Miss in the season finale. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Forced to Quit Football
But prior to entering high school, Devey started having problems with his knees. After catching a game, his knees would swell up and hurt. They remained tender during football season, and playing became extremely painful.
A doctor ran some tests on Devey's knees, and he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatters disease. The disease is common in adolescents, particularly boys, and causes painful swelling on the shinbone. It is thought to be caused by minor injuries as a result of repeated overuse to the area before it has had time to finish growing.
The doctor told Devey and his parents that if he wanted to be happy when he got older, he needed to pick one sport and go with it. He chose baseball.
Devey played baseball all through high school, but moved to first base and pitcher.
"I liked catching a lot, but it just hurt too much," Devey said. "I knew the aspects of the game from a catcher standpoint, so I switched to pitcher."
Future in Music
The American Fork High School marching band is nationally known for its program. The band travels the world and Devey had the opportunity to march with the group in California, Europe and even in President George W. Bush's second inauguration parade in Washington D.C.
"I was able to see lots of parts of the world because of music and participate in band ensembles I never would have had the opportunity to do," Devey said. "I definitely met some friends and some people that are still in my life and held close to me."
After high school, Devey auditioned his tuba playing skills at Utah Valley University, and the school offered him a music scholarship. But he decided to turn it down at the time to work full-time at a security job, working 40-50 hours a week to save up money to serve a church mission.
"The plan was to re-audition (after my mission) and just pursue music," Devey said. "I wanted to teach it. I loved music."
Mission to Costa Rica
For as many as 10 hours each day, seven-days a week, Devey spent the two years proselytizing, working with church members and providing service to the community. Very little time was given to working out and training, but he did what he could to stay in shape.
"I didn't have any idea that I was going to be playing football, but I'd run, do push ups and jump rope," Devey said. "I actually got to like jump rope."
Throughout his time in Costa Rica, Devey had several mission companions tell him that because of his size, he should play football. A combination of having a break from the sport and spending two years on a mission had helped to eliminate the pain in his knees.
"I came home and everything about going to Utah Valley University and everything about staying in Utah County and pursuing music didn't feel right," Devey said. "I remembered a couple of my companions telling me that you've got to go try this football thing. I felt like I might as well."
Devey told his father, Kerry, that he might be interested in giving football a try. The next day his father came home from work with the name and number of a co-worker's father who had played football for Dixie State.
After giving the number a call, he was told that his best option would be to try and walk on at a junior college since it had been a long time since he had played organized football. Devey was given some numbers to call, which resulted in him driving with his mom the hour and a half to Ephraim, Utah, to meet with the offensive line coach at Snow College, Dan Gerber.
Snow College Takes a Chance
"We were intrigued," Gerber said. "There's not much we could lose. If he pans out it will be great, and if he doesn't, that's fine."
"He was really raw when we first got him," Gerber continued. "We saw he had some ability, and he could do some things if he would rough it out and learn those things. We really grounded him in fundamentals and made sure he got the basic concepts first. It took him a little while."
Having never played football above the junior high level, Devey had to learn how to play offensive line.
"It was really rough," Devey said. "First off I was light. I was only 260 pounds. My body wasn't in shape at all. Just the whole physical aspect I wasn't ready for. Then getting to learn the X's and O's, defensive fronts and plays and all of that. I doubted it a lot and thought I'm not sure I can do this."
In a moment of despair, Devey met with Gerber and told him he was having trouble grasping all of the different concepts.
"He was like, `You had to learn Spanish (on your mission) right?' and I said yes, and he said, `Just do what you did to learn Spanish and just put it in football.' A lot of the same learning techniques I used to learn Spanish I put into football terms," Devey said. "I ended up getting it down."
By the beginning of fall, an injury had moved Devey into the starting lineup at left guard during his freshman season in 2009. Gerber said the team had a good center that ended up being a first-team All-American and a left tackle that was a first-team all-league selection. He knew that putting Devey between those two would help him grow and learn the ropes.
As a sophomore, Devey transitioned to left tackle and was named the team's 2010 Offensive Player of the Year. He earned all-region and all-conference honors, totaling 37 pancake blocks and leading a line that did not allow a sack the entire season. The Snow Badgers offense averaged more than 40 points per game and finished the 2010 season with a 10-2 record and a No. 7 national ranking.
"It was incredible he could pick it up so quickly," Gerber said. "It's a testament of his work ethic. He was always one of the hardest workers. I think he's an underestimated athlete."
Belonging in Memphis
"In the end, it was just a feeling that Memphis was the place I was supposed to come to," Devey said. "I really didn't have any explanation for it. I just felt this was where we were supposed to be. Even though we haven't won that much, I definitely have been able to develop as a person."
Devey has started every game of his career at Memphis since joining the Tigers in the spring of 2011. He's made starts at right tackle, right guard, left tackle and spent time at left guard.
"He's a guy that can play all the positions," Fuente said. "He's the leader of the group. There's not any question. A large part of the improvement of our offensive line as the season has gone on should be attributed to him."
After playing in all 786 offensive plays in 2011, Devey's consecutive-play streak has continued this season.
"That's one thing I'm really proud of is being able to be a part of every play," Devey said. "We have a few games left, and I just hope I can keep the streak alive."
Despite being on a team that has struggled in the win column the past couple of years, Devey said he has no regrets on his decision to come to Memphis. He feels he has continued to develop as a player with the different coaches and strength coaches that have worked with him.
"It feels like every coach that has come here has had something that I needed to learn and something I needed to improve on," Devey continued. "I feel like I have been blessed as far as that goes from a coaching aspect."
The Future is Bright
"I'm going to work and do what I can to make it happen," Devey said. "If it doesn't happen, at least we've made sure that we have a good backup plan."
His former coach, Dan Gerber, has kept up with his time at Memphis and said he enjoys seeing the progress Devey has made.
"For me, it's like a proud papa," Gerber said. "Out of all the guys who I know personally, there's only one other that has done as well. He's really coming into his own and in a short amount of time."
It's been a whirlwind ride for the former tuba player in the marching band. After thinking he would never be able to play football again because of a knee disease, turning down a music scholarship and then starting on the offensive line in his first year of college, the journey has been anything but predictable.
Asked to explain how his knees became healthy enough to play football again, Devey responded that it had to be a higher power.
"My wife and I have talked about it a lot because I think where I thought my life was going before I came home from Costa Rica and where my life is now and where it's going now," he said. "It's completely different. I thought I had one plan, and obviously God had a different plan for me."