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Heisman light starting to shine on Devine

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Noel Devine admits he's thought about winning the Heisman Trophy.

The West Virginia running back said he became a big fan of Syracuse legend Ernie Davis after seeing "The Express" last year and dreamed about taking home the trophy like Davis once did.

"If I can get some Heisman attention, that would be great," Devine said. "Nobody has ever won it from my area, and nobody has ever won it from this school. In the preseason, I saw who was in the running for it, and I thought, 'Just play hard, and hopefully they'll mention my name.'"

Devine is starting to make Heisman voters pay attention. The junior from Fort Myers, Fla., popped up on ESPN.com's Heisman Watch this week with two votes (one of them from yours truly) after yet another big performance last week against Connecticut.

He piled up 178 yards -- all but seven of them coming in the second half -- and ripped off a game-winning 56-yard touchdown with 2:10 remaining in a 28-24 win. That score was his fifth run of at least 50 yards this season; he had a 62-yarder earlier in the UConn game and has had two runs of at least 70 yards this year.

Devine ranks third in the FBS in rushing, averaging 130.3 yards per game. He is gaining 6.7 yards per carry and has already scored 10 touchdowns for the No. 21 Mountaineers (6-1), who play at South Florida on Friday night.

West Virginia isn't planning on rolling out any big Heisman campaign for Devine, which is fine with him.

"I'm not really focused on that," he said. "I'm focused on helping us keep winning and hopefully go to a BCS bowl game."

The 5-foot-8 Devine has always had special talent and an unreal burst of speed. Sometimes he relied on that speed a little too much. What has taken him to a new level this year is his patience and understanding of the game.

"Every time he used to touch the ball, he went as fast as he could go, as quick as he could go in a million directions," head coach Bill Stewart said. "We preach patience to the hole, then speed through the hole, and that's what he's doing different. He's not doing all that back and forth, back and forth, like on PlayStation."

The game-winner against UConn illustrated Devine's twin strengths. He took a zone-read handoff, followed his blocks to the outside, then zipped around the corner to go into the end zone untouched. Devine said he spent a lot of time in the offseason watching film to help develop more patience and understanding of the blocking schemes.

"You work hard, and you shine hard," he said.

He's also become much more of a team leader this year. Stewart recalled the Colorado game, after the Mountaineers had made many mistakes in the first half. Before Stewart could give his halftime speech, Devine grabbed his arm and said, "We're goofing up and we know it. You keep your cool and just give me that ball."

"I looked at him that night and said, 'He's got it,'" Stewart said. "Maturity, responsibility accountability -- all those buzzwords, he's become that."

West Virginia fans should enjoy Devine in the final five regular-season games, because he's eligible to enter the NFL draft this spring. While Devine said his mind is not set on leaving and he'd like to become the first person in his family to receive a college degree, his background and economic situation will likely make it tough for him to turn down a potential pro contract.

"I'm going to leave that in God's hands and just play to my best ability each game," he said.

Right now, that best ability is pretty good. Good enough to merit some Heisman talk.