FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — You all know the story of the one that got away, right? The fish that somehow wiggled off your hook gets larger and larger as the years go by.
So it will be with James Develin’s first NFL touchdown. He scored it Sunday in the New England Patriots’ 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans, a 1-yard plunge that made everyone’s highlights. Now, depending on what story you read, Develin either bounced off three, four or six Texan defenders before lunging into the end zone. Perhaps years from now, he’ll have been hit by all 11 Texans.
However many it was, it was perhaps the most impressive 1-yard touchdown in Patriots history.
“It was something I’ll never forget,” said the fullback. “Getting your number called and knowing you’re that close and finally plunging in there like I did … it was an incredible experience.”
And it has made Develin’s journey well worth every ache and bruise.
His path to the NFL has not been typical. He attended Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. He played football there – as a defensive lineman. He finished his career with 53 tackles.
Undrafted out of college and with good job prospects ahead of him, he wasn’t ready to give up on football just yet. He played Arena Football for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, then hooked up with the Florida Tuskers of the now-defunct United Football League.
He also decided he wanted to be a fullback.
“I knew my road to the NFL would be a tough one, so I kind of just wanted to be versatile and wherever they needed me to play, I would do it,” he said. “And when I got to the UFL is when I finally made that switch.”
He was fortunate enough to play for the Tuskers under Coach Jay Gruden. When the league folded, Gruden joined the Cincinnati Bengals, where he is now their offensive coordinator, and took Develin with him. He spent all of 2011 on Cincinnati’s practice squad. When the Bengals released him on the last cuts of the 2012 preseason, the Patriots signed him to their practice squad.
He was active for only one game last year. This year he has become a solid contributor on special teams and as a blocking fullback.
“He’s a good example of a guy that may not get a ton of credit up front, but deserves his share of it because he has helped us in the running game as a lead blocker,” said Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator. “He’s an incredibly unselfish player, works hard, definitely adds an element of toughness to our team and to our offense.
“He comes to work every day and gives you everything he has. I think any time you can add a player to your team like that, it can only help you.”
Tom Brady said that the fullback has been a missing piece of New England’s offense the last couple of years.
“It’s a very selfless position,” said Brady. “You’re not going to get a lot of carries or catches. It’s really about springing holes for other people, and whether that’s the running back or protecting the quarterback so you can drop back and throw it to the receivers, it’s all about the team at that position. He brings it.”
Brady was asked if he did a double-take when the call came in for Develin to get the ball at the goal line.
“No, we knew that was something that we wanted to do and I think he gives everybody confidence that he can do those things,” said Brady. “Then when you give it to him and you see a fourth or fifth effort for a score, you want to give the guy more opportunities.”
Develin, 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, was initially stopped at the line but kept bouncing off tacklers while rolling to his left, eventually lunging in for the score.
Bill Belichick agreed that Develin’s role could be expanded – to a degree.
“I don’t think he’s ever going to be out there for every play offensively, that’s not his role, but when we do have him out there or when we have him out there in the kicking game, he works hard at what he’s asked to do and he’s been a good contributor for the team,” said Belichick. “He’s smart, he’s tough, he works hard, he’s a very dependable guy and there’s an awful lot to be said for that.”
Develin, 25, simply wants to be out there.
“Any time my number is called, no matter the role, I’m going to try to go out there and do my best and get the job done,” he said. “I’ve been blessed that they trust me enough to go in there and do different things that I haven’t done before. I’m just going to continue to learn and get better.”
He knows he could have cashed in on the engineering degree out of college. That wasn’t for him just yet.
“I’ve got that degree in my back pocket and it will be with me until the day I die,” said Develin. “I knew that if I didn’t give it my best shot to try to play football as a career, I’d always regret it. So I took a little bit of a risk and luckily it worked out.”
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: