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FOOTBALL: Former Card standout back on track

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Devante Averette was a standout football player for Melvindale High School, and his gridiron dreams nearly ended there due to struggles in the classroom.

After graduating in 2011 with accolades and a highlight reel to prove it, there were no offers to move on.

Averette struggled to get through high school, and because of that couldn’t get into any major colleges to continue his career. The linebacker, who stands 6 feet 1 inch tall and runs a 4.4 second 40-yard dash was completely out of football for over a year.

He eventually enrolled at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, where he was given an opportunity not only to play, but to fix his woes with school.

“I always knew I was going to get back to playing,” he said. “(The year off,) was down. I would just watch football and get upset sometimes because I could have made that play easy. It was tough.”

Now 18 months after starting, Averette graduated with an associate’s degree and will enroll at Oklahoma State University in time to play in the spring practices and compete for a spot in the starting line-up in the fall.

The Iowa cornfields and tiny population were just what Averette needed to keep his mind on his studies. Not only did he graduate in just three semesters, but he did so with a 3.4 grade point average.

Ellsworth was the choice for more than just a change of pace though. Averette said that an opportunity to play right away was a key factor.

“They had a hole new coaching staff,” he said, “I knew they weren’t going to play any favorites, so I took the chance. I had to beat out 22 linebackers for a spot.

“It was the best decision (for me).”

Following this season, Averette was named to the Junior College All-America team. In just seven games last season he totaled 92 tackles, better than 13 per contest. He had a season high 19 tackles in back-to-back games in September, both wins over Arkansas Baptist College and Iowa Central Community College. He also had four sacks last season. His freshman year he totaled 79 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

“Devante is a force of nature on the football field,” Ellsworth coach Josh Lattimere said in a relase after Averette was named defensive player of the week in September. “We look to him to make big time plays. He is a leader on our defense and he brings a high level of energy to the field.”

According to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, Averette is the 100th best junior college prospect and the fourth best inside linebacker.

The Cowboys almost failed to wrangle Averette though, as he had verbally committed to West Virginia last year.

Switching commitments was simply a matter of having an opportunity to get more playing time.

“In (West Virginia’s) particular defense they run a 3-3-5 which depends on their defensive backs,” he said. “I saw when I was watching them, watching my position they recruited me for, which was like a defensive end, I saw their interior linebackers and thought I could play on that level. I asked about it, and they didn’t want to go that way.

“There was no point in selling myself short.”

Because the Mountaineers wouldn’t let him play his natural position, he looked elsewhere. When Oklahoma State came calling, the decision to go there was easy.

“Oklahoma State runs a 4-4-3, which is type of defense I just left,” he said. “It will make for a nice easy transition. Basically just the terminology is different.”

He’ll play more than just at linebacker in the fall. Averette said that he’ll get an opportunity to play defensive end and strong safety, as well, depending on the package.

“I’ve only got two years of eligibility, so I’m trying to stay on the field as much as possible,” he said.

Former high school assistant coach Mike Dennis said that Averette’s combination of size, speed and strength are a lethal combination on the field. He bench presses 340 pounds and can squat 430 lbs. in addition to his quick time in the 40-yard dash.

“When you plan, you had better know where he’s at on the field,” Dennis said. “He’s progressed, we played him at rush end, now he can play (anywhere). There is no playing around him anymore.”

Dennis had high praise for Averette, both on and off the field.

“Defensively Devonte is probably the best I’ve coached,” he said. “What I’m most proud about Devonte is his schooling. When he left out of here he didn’t have the grades, it was tough to watch with his talent.

“Sometimes you have to go a detour, but you end up back on the same path.”

In addition to Oklahoma State and West Virginia Averette had offers from Appalachian State, North Texas and Florida Atlantic among others to continue his career.

-David Komer contributed to this report

Contact Video Coordinator Dave Herndon at 1-734-246-0867 or dherndon@heritage.com. Follow him on Facebook and @NHDaveH on Twitter.

Last Updated: 1/7/2014 1:51:36 PM EST