James Develin: From Boyertown to Yard Dawgz to Patriots

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New England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) celebrates a touchdown with running back LeGarrette Blount (29). (Stew Milne/USA Today)

CHANDLER, Ariz. - James Develin started working on his resumé in the summer of 2010. He failed to make the Cleveland Browns after a tryout following a decorated career at Brown University. Weeks shy of turning 22, the Gilbertsville native and Boyertown High graduate needed to decide whether to pursue his dream of professional football or put his mechanical engineering degree from an Ivy League school to use.

Develin's classmates were headed to New York and Boston for consulting and finance jobs. He began arranging interviews. Then a Facebook message sidetracked Develin from a life spent in an office and started an itinerant professional football journey that will be highlighted Sunday, when Develin starts at fullback for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The message was from a representative of the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, an Arena Football League team. Develin flew to Oklahoma City, put himself up in a hotel, and made the team on a tryout.

"It was a little bit of a leap of faith, but I knew that if I didn't give it a shot, no matter what level, I would always regret it," Develin said. "So I went ahead and took a chance. . . . If I started my engineering career and started doing well and I'd never given football a chance, I'd always look back and think, 'What if?' "

The salary was $400 per week for active players and $200 per week for inactive players. Develin spent five weeks with the team. He entered only one game. His total compensation was $1,200.

But it was a start. And it kept him believing he could play football long enough for a call from his agent about the now-defunct United Football League, where the Florida Tuskers were seeking a fullback.

One problem: Develin had never played fullback. He was a defensive player in college.

So he learned, showing enough raw ability to make the team. Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden was the coach at the time. Develin spent nine weeks with the Tuskers, and NFL scouts noticed.

The Tuskers' season ended Nov. 27, 2010. Two days later, Develin had a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals. They signed him to their practice squad. He developed as a fullback with Woodbury native Chris Pressley, the Bengals' starter.

The season ended after five weeks and the Bengals hired Gruden as offensive coordinator. Develin remained on the practice squad throughout the 2011 season. He did not play on Sundays, but he was with an NFL team and made a nice living.

"I knew as long as I was on the practice squad, I was pretty close to realizing my dream," Develin said.

When he did not make the Bengals after the 2012 preseason, Develin signed with the New England Patriots' practice squad. They promoted him to their active roster for four weeks late in the season, which was his first taste of NFL action. He learned the playbook almost overnight. During the next summer, he earned his spot as the team's top fullback. Develin hasn't missed a game since.

Develin caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the AFC championship game two weeks ago. It was the second touchdown of his career. On Thursday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called Develin the "best fullback in the league."

"My most proud moment, I guess, maybe it hasn't even been yet," Jim Develin, James' father, said by telephone Thursday. "The expectation of this game, it's almost like full circle. It's coming to fruition. Everything is coming to this point. . . . It's really a very, very interesting, incredible story."

His family has started to arrive in Arizona. It's a large Philadelphia-area contingent. Whenever anyone asks Develin where he's from, he responds, "Philadelphia," even though he grew up about 40 miles away. He and his wife, who also went to Boyertown and graduated from Temple, recently bought a home in Plymouth Meeting.

Develin was raised a devoted Philadelphia sports fan who rooted for the Eagles when the Patriots last won the Super Bowl 10 years ago. Now, he might be a part of the next Patriots team to win one. It makes him appreciate bypassing an office job four years ago.

"It took a long time," Develin said. "But it allows me to step back and go, 'Man, a couple years ago I was down in Oklahoma City scrounging.' And now I'm about to play in the Super Bowl. It's really an amazing thing."

 


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm