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Former football standout James Develin ’10 announces NFL retirement

New England Patriots fullback reflects on time at Brown and in NFL

By
Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2020

James Develin (right) on the field during his tenure with the Bears. He was part of the 2008 Brown football team, the most recent Bears squad to win an Ivy League championship.

Former Brown football star James Develin ’10 announced his retirement from the National Football League in April after eight years of playing for the New England Patriots. Develin captured three Super Bowl rings and became the first Patriots fullback since Sam Cunningham in 1978 to earn Pro Bowl honors. 

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, winner of six Super Bowls, offered high praise to Develin.

“To some people, James Develin may be ‘unsung’ in terms of publicity and fame, but to his coaches and teammates he is one of the most appreciated and respected players we have ever had,” Belichick wrote in a press release. “Any team would be fortunate to have a James Develin-‘type’ on its roster but the reality is he is a rarity and we are very fortunate he was a Patriot.”

Develin stood out as an elite player from the beginning of his 25-year football career. He was born in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania and began playing football at seven. From the start, Develin planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue football at the collegiate level. He attended Boyertown Area Senior High School where he was named team captain and Most Valuable Player. After receiving interest from top football programs across the country, Develin chose to attend Brown. 

“From the first interaction with the Brown coaches, I knew that they were people I could look up to and that they would teach me not only the game of football, but how to grow as a man,” Develin told The Herald. “And they did that.”

While at Brown, Develin made an immediate impact playing as a defensive end. As a first-year, he earned a spot on the varsity travel roster and recorded his first career sack. The following year, Develin was ranked first in the Ivy League and 34th in the nation in tackles. His junior year, Brown Football captured the Ivy League Championship. 

Develin’s noteworthy career for the Bears culminated in 2009 All-New England All-Star Team honors. 

Head Coach James Perry ’00, who was a quarterbacks coach at Brown while Develin was on the team, said that Develin had a large impact on his coaches and teammates. “He was a tremendous leader, a brilliant kid and the most competitive person,” Perry said. “Every defensive lineman that goes to Brown models himself after James Develin.”

When Develin graduated in 2010 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he had garnered many accomplishments at the collegiate level, but there appeared to be a low probability that Develin could establish a successful NFL career after college.

“There were a few guys on the Brown team that were getting NFL looks, and I was probably the least sought-after guy on the team,” Develin said. “I was not that athletically gifted, I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t that big, and I was kind of a tweener because I played defensive line in college, but I was too small to do that in the NFL.”

Still, Develin dreamed of playing in the NFL, so he put his mechanical engineering career on hold to hone his football skills and seek a professional opportunity. When Develin received a Facebook message to try out for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, a member of the Arena Football League, he flew across the country in hopes that this would be the first step in a professional football career. 

Develin played defense for the Yard Dawgz before signing with the Florida Tuskers, a member of the United Football League. With the Tuskers, he transitioned to offense, playing fullback. Within months, Develin earned his NFL opportunity when he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of their practice squad.

“If it’s up to me to make something happen, and all I have to do is work, then I will always try my absolute hardest to put that sweat equity into a dream to make it happen,” Develin said.  “That’s the one thing I can control.”

Develin’s relentless work ethic in the weight room and on the field translated to another chapter of his NFL career. Despite being cut by the Bengals, Develin signed with the Patriots in 2012. He would go on to play 83 regular-season games with 31 starts over seven seasons with New England. As a Patriot, he captured three Super Bowl championships and in 2017, earned a spot in the Pro Bowl. 

Speaking to the media after his retirement, Develin recalled that his favorite moment of his career was in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, when he cleared a path for running back Sony Michel to score the winning touchdown in the waning minutes of the game. 

“Those of us at Brown are extremely proud of all that he has accomplished,” Athletic Director Jack Hayes told The Herald. “He continues to be a tremendous representative of Brown University, our athletics department and our football program.”

Develin’s passion for the sport of football, coupled with his perseverance, took him on an unforgettable journey. As he hangs up his cleats and looks toward a future outside of professional competition, Develin is confident that the sport will continue to enrich his life.

“Football was my first love. … I have an innate desire to give back to the game of football because it gave me so much these past 25 years,” he said. “I will always step in and pay my respects to Brown because it is such a special place, it will always be with me.”

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