I know I’m not the reason most of you clicked on this article, so I’ll make this brief.
Far too often kids (and adults for that matter) choose their role models/heros not because of who they are as a person, but because of who they are on an athletic field. I think that’s the reason I pitched the idea of this post to Mike in the first place. Not because I wanted to be “the first” to report something, or get a bunch of likes on social media.
It’s because Mike DeVito is someone that everyone should look up to. Not because of his 9 years in the NFL, as impressive as that is, but because of who he is off the field. Having come to know just a little bit of that person over the last couple years it was clear to me other people should get to know that person too. He’s the type of guy that puts his family first, who will pray before dinner, and who has made a difference in thousands of students lives in Maine and beyond by taking the time to share his story.
We read too much about the Greg Hardys and Johnny Manziels of the world. For once, let’s celebrate an athlete who deserves it.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”
9 years ago I was sitting in a locker at the New York Jets training facility at Hofstra University waiting to hear the words “DeVito grab your playbook the general manager wants to see you.” I had already seen a dozen players more talented than I was get released and figured I had to be next. That never came…until now. But it didn’t come from a guy in personnel or a coach, it was my wife. “It’s over, baby. Time to hang up the cleats.” She was voicing what I already knew in my heart; it was time to move on from football.
Football…what a game! For me it all started in elementary school. My grandfather, Ralph Consiglio, had been the head football coach for Suffern High School in New York for 30 years. He retired from coaching right after I was born to move to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He had one goal in mind, to pass on his knowledge and love for the game of football to his grandson. My earliest memories of football were of me catching passes from Pop in the backyard, wearing my new Ronnie Lott Raiders jersey. I instantly fell in love with the game. If you had asked me at 5 years old what I wanted to do when I grew up I would have told you “I’m going to play in the NFL.”
The first time I played on a football team was my freshman year at Nauset Regional High School. I can clearly recall that first practice. I was so nervous and excited running out onto that field that my coach yelled to me “DeVito get back in the locker room! Your knee pads and thigh pads are on backwards.” As I walked back in to fix the problem, I remember hearing one of the older players say “Idiot freshmen.” I instantly new this was going to be more difficult than catching passes in the backyard. My father, Vinny DeVito, picked me up from practice that day and being discouraged and embarrassed I told him I wanted to quit. His answer was so profound and ended up being a lesson that football would teach me over and over again for the next 19 years. He told me “No.” That was it…NO. You don’t quit. You never quit. Football, like life, is difficult, almost impossible at times, and if you quit something once it becomes easier and easier to quit again. But if you persevere through hardships and suffering you become tougher, wiser, and more equipped to handle anything life can throw at you.
The combo of my grandfather’s football knowledge with my dad’s knowledge of the weight room gave me a head start in high school and I became a full time starter my sophomore year. Each year I worked harder, got better, and loved the game more. High school football brought my family together in a special way. I was blessed to be able to play on the same team with my brother John while having the support and encouragement of my family, especially my mom.
Thanks to the University of Maine I was given the opportunity to play Division 1 football. I will never be able to forget running onto that field for my first game against the University of Montana in 2003, but its significance came later. It was the first and last game my grandfather Ralph attended, because he passed away the following week. I owe my football career and so much more to my grandfather and I thank God that he was able to see me play one last time. Another lesson football has taught me, every play you take is a blessing so never take it for granted because it can all be over in an instant. Again this lesson applies to life as well.
While at Maine, two people changed my life in ways that I could never repay. Coach Jeff Comissiong, my defensive line coach, taught me how to be a professional. He held me accountable on and off the field. I know without him, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. The other was my best friend Matthew Mulligan. Mully and I first met in the weight room (surprised?) and our friendship grew from there. Just before I left college for the NFL, Mully introduced me to Jesus Christ. No single moment in my life has had more of an impact. Our friendship is something I cherish and thank God for every day.
My childhood dream came true in 2007 when the New York Jets took a chance on a player from a small school and offered me a contract. Not only did I get to continue playing football but I also got to play for the team I grew up rooting for. I was almost in shock the first time I walked into the locker room and saw my last name on the back of a Jets jersey. Even as I reflect on my time in the NFL there isn’t a moment I cherish more than putting on that jersey and running out of the tunnel in front of my entire family to play my first game at Meadowlands Stadium. I learned so much during six years in New York but one lesson has stood out more than the others and it is summed up well in a quote that was painted on a wall at the Jets facility. “Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.” If I wanted to play well on Sunday my preparation had to be more important than anything else. Off the field, if I want to be the best Christian, husband, and father I can be then I need to order my life making those the priority. Hands down, this is the most valuable lesson football has taught me.
The three years I spent in Kansas City were equally as amazing as the ones I spent in New York. I got to be around some of the greatest coaches and players I have ever met and play in front of the Chiefs Kingdom in the loudest stadium in the NFL. But there is one friendship that stands out. As I write I’m looking at the wall in my office of a picture of Derrick Johnson and I during a game in 2013, the year before we both tore our Achilles tendons. On the other side of that picture is a photo of us making a tackle together in our first game back, healthy in 2015. The brotherhood that was built through the two of us battling through adversity together, and the lessons I learned from one of the greatest leaders I have ever been around are priceless.
The last lesson I learned on this journey didn’t come from football but instead from my wife Jessie and my son Rocco. The last lesson is vitally important but its application is very difficult. This last lesson is the reason why I have made the decision to move on from football. It is this; there are more important things in life than football. As hard as it is to say goodbye to the game that has made me the man I am, I cannot wait for the second half of this journey through life, loving Jessie more and more every day and watching my son Rocco start a journey of his own.
I want to thank the New York Jets, the Kansas City Chiefs and all the amazing people I have met throughout my career. To all my family, friends, and fans, thank you for making an average player feel like a hall of famer. And to the game of football, thank you for the past 18 years, all the memories, and the lessons that will continue to serve me for the rest of my life.
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