FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick loves the phrase “nobody works harder.” As in “nobody works harder than (insert player name here).” Over the past few seasons, nobody has received more “nobody works harders” than fullback James Develin.
Those inside Gillette Stadium always have appreciated Develin’s grit and work ethic, but he’s never received much outside recognition for his on-field exploits. That changed this week.
On Tuesday night, Develin was announced as one of four New England Patriots representatives to the 2018 Pro Bowl — the first such honor of his seven-year NFL career.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Develin said. “And just to be considered for it, I truly appreciate it.”
A southeast Pennsylvania native, Develin grew up idolizing former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Kevin Turner (“He had a real cool catch against the Cincinnati Bengals. I still remember it like it was yesterday.”) but actually played on the defensive line as a collegiate player at Brown, where he studied engineering. He didn’t switch to offense until he scored a tryout with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League in 2010.
“I was just at home trying to line up engineering jobs,” said Develin, whose pro career began with a brief stint in the Arena Football League. “And then (my agent) got a workout for me with the UFL team and told me it was as a fullback. He just said, ‘Don’t tell them you’ve never played fullback before.’ ”
Develin parlayed his time in the now-defunct UFL into a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he spent a season-and-a-half on the Bengals’ practice squad before signing with the Patriots in 2012. He became New England’s starting fullback the following season and, with the exception of the broken leg that cost him the entire 2015 campaign, has played in every game since.
“I can honestly say that in 10 years of pro football, I’ve never had a better teammate,” said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, another 2018 Pro Bowler. “There’s no question about that. You talk about a guy who’s just unselfish (and) does everything the right way. He really does everything the right way. And to see him get that honor, we’re all just thrilled for him.”
Belichick also commended Develin, including the obligatory mention that nobody works harder than him.
“I think it’s great,” the coach said. “Look, nobody has worked hard than James has. He started off on the practice squad, worked his way onto the roster, on and off as an active and inactive player. (He) has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased. As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation.
“I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. You see him doing extras in the weight room. You see him doing extras on the practice field. You see him in early or late looking at film, going over things. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role, so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him.”
Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images