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M.J. Devonshire Reflects on Pitt Career Ahead of Exciting Future

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Pitt cornerback M.J. Devonshire.

PITTSBURGH — M.J. Devonshire returned home in 2021 after two seasons with Kentucky, and after three seasons with Pitt, he is in prime position for an NFL team to pick in the upcoming draft in April.

Devonshire spent the past three seasons with the Panthers, playing in 38 games, missing just one and starting 18 games at cornerback the past two seasons. He finished his time at Pitt with 83 tackles (51 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and 21 pass breakups, while earning All-ACC punt returner honors in 2022.

He also earned Second Team All-ACC honors this past season at cornerback. Devonshire finished for first in the conference with 14 passes defended and second with 1.17 passes defended per game. He was also second-best in the ACC with four interceptions, including an 86-yard pick-six against then-ranked No. 14 Louisville, that helped set up the 38-21 upset on Oct. 14.

Most fans will always remember Devonshire for his pick-six against West Virginia in the 2022 Backyard Brawl, the first edition of the rivalry in 11 years. He caught the pass off a deflection from WVU wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton and ran 56 yards back for the go-ahead score in the 38-31 win to open the season in front of a national audience.

Devonshire chose to forgo a potential sixth season, thanks to a COVID-19 year, by declaring for the NFL Draft in December.

He participated in the East-West Shrine Bowl in early February and then worked out at the NFL Combine earlier in March. Devonshire posted times of 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 1.54 seconds in the 10-yard split, 7.12 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.35 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. He also had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet and four inches.

Despite doing well at the combine, Devonshire came back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Wednesday for Pitt Pro Day to improve upon his best qualities that he displayed for NFL teams back in Indianapolis.

“That the athleticism is there,” Devonshire said on his NFL Combine performance. “I think a lot of people see it on the film and you know, you get a chance to test it and actually see where a guy is. Definitely just to showcase the athleticism.”

Devonshire came into Pitt Pro Day ready to improve upon his times, but returning home meant that he also had an added benefit in that he worked out with some of his former teammates. This included fellow cornerbacks in A.J. Woods and Marquis Williams, as well as linebacker Shayne Simon, who all worked on their preparation for Wednesday.

Woods and Williams both spent a long time at Pitt themselves. Williams joined the program in 2018, playing in 59 games over six seasons, including 44 starts, while Woods came to Pitt in 2019, played in 61 games over five seasons with 14 starts.

“After the combine, it was a relief,” Devonshire said. “I was more relaxed than ever. I calmed down and just this process, I was more anxious to get out here and just be back competing and working out with my guys. A.J. and ‘Quis and then Shayne got to jump out there with us. Just being back out there. That might be the last time we ever touch the field together. So trying to cherish that moment with them. I’ve been here three years with those guys and it hits me. I’m kind of emotional about that.”

Devonshire didn’t hit the bench press at the NFL Combine, but participated in the event at Pitt Pro Day, putting up 10 reps at 225 pounds.

He also improved on his time in the three cone drill at 6.84 seconds, something he came back to Pitt to do with Woods and Williams.

“A bunch,” Devonshire said on how his two teammates helped him over the past month. “I didn’t run the times I wanted to in my shuttle at the combine and I was like, “I gotta get back to it” and A.J. showed up and I was like, “Let me watch A.J. run” and just brought the competitive nature out of me to run a better time. Didn’t beat him, but I ran a better time than I did at the combine. So just that competitive nature and being out there with ‘Quis, he got fluid hips, great feet. Just being out there with him you gotta work to look as good as him. Just being back with my guys is always great.”

He also then participated in position work after doing the drills, staying cool and collected as he showed NFL scouts his talents all across the field.

“Just being smooth and being fluid and that it wasn’t just preparing to kill the combine,” Devonshire said on what he wanted to accomplish at Pitt Pro Day. “I can actually backpedal and do more than just press. Showcasing my versatility as a corner.”

If a team does select Devonshire in upcoming the Draft, he would continue the pipeline of Pitt defensive backs to the NFL, making it five straight years with a player going to the NFL in the Draft from the position group.

Devonshire credited the scheme that Panthers secondary coach Archie Collins implements, which forces defensive backs to work one-on-one with their targets and to rely on their own talents and football IQ to win their battles.

“Coach Collins do a good job,” Devonshire said. “He gon’ recruit dogs. I think the one thing that separates all of us is our mentality. I tell a lot of guys, young guys ask me, “What makes you good in a system?,” it’s your mentality. A lot of guys, they go places and they get to play off. Here, you gotta sit and press a guy and be in his face all day and it’s just you and him one-on-one, no help. You on an island, truly. So you gotta have the right mentality to be successful and that’s where it starts. He does a good job recruiting guys with that mentality.”

He also has the chance to keep a great tradition going through his roots from Aliquippa, where he won a WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A Title in 2018. Three Pro Football Hall of Famers in Mike Ditka, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis, who he shares the Pitt connection with as well, all come from Aliquippa.

“Man it would mean a lot,” Devonshire said. “I always say, “I want to go First Round like them guys,” but, they often tell me, “Don’t get too caught up into doing what we did. Run your own race.” Everybody’s race is different. Everybody does different things. So just being the next up would be great. Hopefully there will be a couple more in line. Shoutout to D.J. Walker.”

Devonshire, who many sites project as a third day pick, has met with NFL teams, including the Buffalo Bills and his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. Regardless of where he goes, Devonshire is ready for the game at the next level.

“Just anywhere that wants to take me is the right opportunity,” Devonshire said. “It does mean a little something on that. A lot of people in my family are Steelers fans, so it means something to them. To me, it’s just whoever wants to take a chance on me. “

The ending of Pro Day also is the completion of Devonshire’s career as a Panther. While he may go anywhere across the country to play football next, coming back home and excelling on a National stage is something he’ll never forget.

“It was a journey,” Devonshire said on his collegiate career. “It was a fun journey. I learned a lot at Kentucky. Obviously leaving Aliquippa, going out and becoming my own person and then coming back to the city. Like I said earlier, just thanking the city. So much love and so much support from people that I’ve probably never spoke to, but they love and support me like they know me in real life. So just a great journey and more to come.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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