ORONO — University of Maine football coach Joe Harasymiak approached Jeff DeVaughn and asked him to speak at the memorial service for Darius Minor, the 18-year-old freshman who collapsed and died during an on-campus workout on July 24.

DeVaughn, a fifth-year defensive back for the Black Bears, did not hesitate.

JEFF DeVAUGHN

“I felt like I had to do it,” DeVaughn said Tuesday during the team’s annual media day. “I felt like, I was his mentor. Coach H had asked me to take him under my wing. He was a quiet kid so I wanted to help him out, show him around campus, help him learn his position, be there whenever he needed it.

“I wanted to do it and spoke from the heart.”

He told his teammates to never take anything for granted, to make the most of every opportunity because that’s what Minor was trying to do. His speech helped start the healing process, which continues each day for the Black Bears.

Those who have watched the 5-foot-10, 193-pound DeVaughn grow at UMaine knew he could handle the situation. He may not be one of the best-known players for the Black Bears – he excels on special teams and is a sure tackler at safety, with 72 tackles and three interceptions in his career – but he is certainly one of the most-respected.

“I lived with Jeff my second year here,” said Cody Levy, a senior offensive lineman. “I knew even then that he was a leader. He always wants to do the right thing, wants to help everyone do the right thing. He’s a guy who comes to work hard … who just wants to make sure things are done the right way, the Maine way.”

Sterling Sheffield, a senior linebacker, said DeVaughn is one of the best leaders he’s seen at Maine, along with fifth-year senior quarterback-turned-tight end Drew Belcher and former Black Bears Jamil Demby, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the spring, and Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, now playing in the Canadian Football League.

“They all put the team first, which is something that’s hard to do,” said Sheffield.

But it goes beyond the field with the 22-year-old DeVaughn, who earned his degree in kinesiology and is now working toward his master’s degree in the school’s higher education program. He is involved in many campus activities, such as the Student Advisory Board, the Elite 13 and Male Athletes against Domestic Violence, and has spoken to several other groups.

“I try to be more than just an athlete,” he said. “I want to be involved in things in my community.”

Harasymiak said DeVaughn is one of the best representatives of the football team on campus, along with Belcher. “They do everything right,” said Harasymiak. “They’ve got great relationships on campus and are going to be successful in whatever they do in life.”

DeVaughn’s team-first attitude is one reason why he is so good at special teams. He has averaged 21.0 yards per kickoff return during his career and, even as a fifth-year player, looks forward to being on special teams. “That’s how I got to where I am now,” he said.

When he arrived from Philadelphia, he wasn’t sure what to expect. “On my (recruiting) visit, I got off the plane and there were no billboards, no skyscrapers,” he said. “Coming from city life, to here, seeing nothing …”

But he immediately began to make an impression.

“Even as a young guy, I came here and wanted to prove myself, to hold myself to a higher standard, the way I walk around, on and off the field,” he said. “That goes a long way in life. I don’t take that for granted. When a young guy sees me, I want him to see me doing the right thing, especially at practice.

“It might be hot, things might not be going right, but I want to be there, showing him I’m having fun, with a smile on my face.”

Manny Patterson, the team’s exceptional junior cornerback, said DeVaughn – who is his roommate – pushes him to be better.

“He’s just as dedicated as I am to getting better and wanting to win,” said Patterson. “That what I need.”

After sitting out his freshman season as a redshirt, DeVaughn played in all 11 games the next two years. A shoulder injury limited him last year to nine games and he had offseason surgery. He feels healthy and ready to go this year.

“I wanted to be 100 percent, not 80 or 70,” he said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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