There were times last season when a bigger wide receiver would push off M.J. Devonshire, and he wasn’t able to say much in return. He just knew he needed to get bigger.
Devonshire would tell his dad Marlin after games how these wide receivers, guys like Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman and West Virginia’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton, were really big dudes. And when he went back and watched the film, it showed. It showed, once again, that he needed to get bigger and stronger.
So, what did Devonshire do this offseason? He got bigger and stronger, of course.
“Some things you’ve got to go through, I call them growing pains,” Devonshire said Wednesday. “Getting bigger, that’s a part of life, and in this game that we play, everyone’s gonna eventually get bigger, so I just focused on that.”
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds now, up five pounds from last year and 10 pounds from two years ago, and he certainly feels bigger. But not just bigger. Stronger and faster, too.
“I just took the offseason and dedicated myself to the weight room and becoming more explosive,” Devonshire said. “It pays off. I find myself in the mirror sometimes, looking like, ‘I’m a little big.’ You know, I tell people I’m a little big now. My best friend, he bigger than me, but I be like, ‘I’ll still slam you.’ You know?”
Devonshire is known for his explosive speed, but after finding himself on the wrong end of physical matchups against bigger wideouts, he knew he needed to find a way to balance that speed with added strength. He knew he couldn’t allow bigger receivers to push him around. Not anymore. So, it was the task of getting stronger and more explosive while maintaining that same speed.
“(It was) finding my comfort zone,” Devonshire said. “Finding where I like to play. I’m still going through it now. I might be a different weight this week than I am next week, I might be lighter, I might be heavier, seeing how I carry the weight, how I hold the weight, just being stronger and more explosive and knowing how to use my movement.”
He recorded 34 tackles (23 solo), three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and broke up eight passes last season. According to PFF, when opposing quarterbacks targeted Devonshire (or he was assigned as the nearest defender), he allowed 33 receptions on 62 targets (just 53% completion) for 407 yards.
It was a very strong season, earning All-ACC honors as a cornerback and punt returner, but a lot of the big plays he gave up last season were to bigger, stronger receivers.
He gave up 31 yards on a lapse in coverage against Western Michigan in Week 3, biting on a double-pass trick play that resulted in a touchdown, and a season-high 113 yards against Tillman and Tennessee in Week 2.
Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown in overtime last season was the result of Tillman using his size and strength to outmuscle Devonshire in the end zone. He’s determined to not allow that kind of play again.
“You gotta multiply the work,” Devonshire said. “I heard a quote in a song, it said, ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you gotta do something you never did.’ So in order to keep that speed while being bigger, and I’ve never been that size, you gotta up the work when you’re running, so I just try to increase my work running and make sure I’m not getting slower day by day, every day if I keep trying to get faster while also trying to get bigger, it’ll pay off.”
With summer camp just kicking off, just under a month until the 2023 season begins against Wofford, Devonshire is ironing out the finer points of his game. But he’s gotten bigger, stronger and more explosive since he picked off UCLA’s Ethan Garbers to cap off a 9-4 season.
He has one last season to pair with Marquis Williams as a lockdown duo at Pitt, and as he’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster, he has the chance to show there’s a whole ‘nother level to his game.
The Williams-Devonshire duo will be a major key in leading Pitt’s secondary through the loss of both starting safeties, providing perhaps the best cornerback duo in the ACC.