BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The path to the NFL for New England Patriots fullback James Develin was anything but traditional after he graduated in 2010 from Brown with a chemical engineering degree.
At the time, he had several work options, but the NFL didn’t appear to be one of them.
Still, his dream was to play in the NFL and Develin went to great extremes to make it a reality.
“My journey was a little unique,” he said as the Patriots prepare to face his former favorite team, the Eagles, in Super Bowl LII on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
A little unique?
His introduction to professional football was with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League in 2010. That came after a failed tryout with the Cleveland Browns.
(Yes, he couldn’t make the Browns but is now on the Patriots).
He then played for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League, which no longer exists. The team was coached by Jay Gruden, the current Washington Redskins coach, who switched Develin from a defensive lineman to fullback.
“He is the guy who kind of gave me the first opportunity at the position and he is a great coach,” Develin said of Gruden.
Develin would later sign with the Bengals
Develin was cut twice by the Bengals after parts of two seasons on their practice squad. He spent another year on New England’s practice squad and then made his NFL debut in 2012, playing one game before sticking with the Patriots for good in 2013. He missed the 2015 season due to a leg injury, but played all 16 games in four others for the Patriots. He has also appeared in 10 playoff games. .
“I always knew anything was possible if you put in the work and I never took no for an answer,” said Develin, who played football and lacrosse at Boyertown.
Now 29, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Develin has received no greater endorsement than from his coach Bill Belichick, often mentioned as the greatest in NFL history.
“Nobody works harder than James,” Belichick said.
On a team with Tom Brady, that is quite a statement.
“James is a smart guy, a tough kid, and he has worked himself into a very significant role on the team on special teams and on offense,” Belichick said. “He is one of our most dependable players. He is so consistent, tough, and makes good decisions on all things he is involved in.”
Not only has he earned the respect of his head coach, but Develin also was awarded with his first Pro Bowl berth this season. He was more than glad to miss last week’s Pro Bowl game in Orlando since the Pats are in the Super Bowl.
“It was a huge honor and something I have a lot of pride in,” he said. “I am thankful for everybody who voted for me — fans, players, and coaches — and I am really glad to be in Minneapolis, not Orlando.”
Not only does Develin play fullback, but he is a key special-teams player.
Develin is on the Patriots punt unit and kickoff-return unit and works as a backup on the other units, according to New England’s special-teams coach Joe Judge (a graduate of Lansdale Catholic).
“James is tough, intelligent, and very accountable and when you put those three together, you have somebody who is a pleasure to work with,” Judge said.
Develin says he expects more than 30 family members and friends to attend the Super Bowl as his Patriots will play against his favorite team growing up.
“It’s a cool kind of situation,” he said “I was an Eagles fan the first 21 years of my life.”
He doesn’t expect the city of Boyertown to change allegiances.
“Eagles fans are pretty loyal and I am sure they are all rooting for the Birds and I am sure at least they hope I play well,” he said.
Develin says he has great high school memories, especially playing Upper Perkiomen on Thanksgiving.
The professional memories aren’t too bad either, but he won’t allow himself any time to look back, at least for now.
“I am sure when I am done playing, I will be able to look through all my memorabilia and appreciate the journey” he said. “But right now I am focused on what is ahead of me.”
What is ahead of him is a chance to win a third Super Bowl ring with his former favorite team standing in the way.