Exclusive Interview with Penn State DT Devon Still
Patrick Woo talks to former Penn State DT Devon Still
In recent years, the NFL Draft has become a national television spectacle. A major part of the show has been the draft's "Green Room," the room where top picks are invited to sit and wait for the announcement of their selection in the draft.
One of the players invited to this year's draft was Penn State's own Devon Still. Some wondered if he would accept the invitation to the draft. But Still says that there was never a doubt in his mind.
"As soon as I got the invite, there wasn't a decision," said Still. "I accepted."
The 6-foot-5, 303-pound defensive tackle has emerged from Penn State as one of its best defensive tackles ever, and one of the top prospects at the position going into the 2012 NFL Draft. Despite being one of the nation's best defensive tackles, he still just feels honored to be a part of what is happening.
"Growing up, you watch this all time," he said. "You want to be a part of it, but you're never sure that you can do it."
It was never easy for Still, especially in his first years at Penn State. In 2007, Still tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and redshirted his freshman season. After finally finishing his rehabilitation in 2008, he broke his left ankle in preseason camp, and missed the first 11 games of the season.
"Being injured the first two years I got here, I never thought I would be in this position today," he said.
Still was finally able to play a full, healthy season in 2009, and played well alongside future Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick. He totaled 19 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 2 sacks in his sophomore campaign.
The coaching staff of the Nittany Lions were going to look to Still to pick up the slack left by Odrick's graduation in the 2010 season. It would take a change in Still's personal life for him to fully grow into his new role: Still's girlfriend gave birth to his daughter Lehsari in the summer of 2010.
"I didn't know how important it was to me until my daughter was born," said Still.
Still's family connection to the NFL has certainly played a role in his development. His cousins Art Still and Levon Kirkland combined for six Pro Bowls in their careers as a defensive end and a linebacker, respectively. But it is his daughter who has had the most significant impact on his outlook on both football and life.
"It definitely helped me mature," he said. "It helped me grow into a man ... It made me realize I wasn't just in charge of my life, I was in charge of someone else's livelihood."
Some of the effects of Still's maturity showed in the 2010 season, as he improved in all facets of the game. Still finished the season with 39 tackes (10 for a loss) and 4 sacks. While his work ethic and attitude were certainly good, he still felt the need to improve going into the 2011 season, and dedicated himself even more.
The coaching staff took notice of his growth and maturity heading into the 2011 season. The redshirt senior was named captain of the team, along with wide receiver Derek Moye, offensive tackle Quinn Barham and safety Drew Astorino. It surprised some who believed that Still was soft-spoken, a trait not normally found in locker room leaders.
"I think I was known as a quiet guy to the media," Still said. "I was always outspoken in the locker room."
He said that he and his fellow captains embraced the idea of leadership and worked hard to earn the coaching staff's trust.
"Somebody had to step up," said Still. "I was dedicated and willing to do whatever it took to keep our team on the right path. We just chose this year to step up and show that we were worthy enough to be the captains."
And in that 2011 season, he showed that he was also worthy of being mentioned with some of the all-time greats in Penn State football. Still had a monster season, racking up 55 tackles (17 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. More importantly, he commanded double teams and allowed Penn State's strong group of linebackers to wreak havoc on opposing backfields.
Still received several accolades for his performance in 2011. He was named both Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He was also named an All-American, as well as a consensus First-Team All-Big Ten player.
What made the difference in 2011? Still thinks it was simply a matter of applying himself even more, and getting the team to do so along with him.
"I became more dedicated to my craft," said Still. "I put more time in studying tape and bonding with our defense. I think this defense is the closest it's ever been since I've been at Penn State. We just gelled well together."
With the season over, as well his Penn State career, Still now looks ahead to the NFL Draft. It's been a process that has put a tremendous amount of focus on players like Still, and with such focus comes a lot of scrutiny. But Still's attitude has been to embrace it.
"It's been going great," Still said. "It has its ups and downs, it's real stressful. But it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love that I have a chance to go through it."
Through the process, scouts have determined that Still will most likely be a late first or early second round pick. They have been impressed with his ability to take on double teams and still get to ballcarriers in the run game. They have, however, noted that he needs to improve in some areas, including his ability to anticipate snap counts and his stamina.
No matter where he is selected, Still will simply be thankful for the opportunity.
"It's going to be like a weight off of my shoulders," he said. "I worked so hard this season to provide for my daughter and provide for my family. Just to know that my family is going to have everything they want from now on, it's going to be a great feeling."
When Still sits in Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, he will sit with his family. He was offered fifteen tickets for the event; he said he will use all fifteen for his family members, and that he cannot wait for the moment his name is called.
"I'm going to have a chance to fulfill my dreams," he said. "It doesn't get better than that."
Dan Smith is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is the Executive Editor of ComRadio. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.