For four days last week, prosecutors in the child-molestation trial of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky bombarded the jury with horrific testimony from eight alleged victims.
Bengals rookie Devon Still did not soak up coverage of the trial. He got his fill of those gut-wrenching allegations while playing for the Nittany Lions when the scandal broke last year.
“I don’t really follow his trial, but I do follow how my teammates are handling the situation and whether they are able to push through it as a team,” Still told me.
As one of Penn State’s captains last year, Devon played a big role in helping to steer his teammates through the crisis.
“You never expect adversity when you’re going through life,” Still told reporters at the NFL Combine. “We were hit so hard, blindsided by it, but we were able to make it through – I think that helped us grow as men and helped us get over challenges that we face in life.”
One of the biggest hurdles that Devon faced was the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno, who died after a bout with lung cancer less than three months later.
“He showed me how to carry myself as an athlete, as a role model, and as a person,” Devon said. “I was really immature when I first got there, but the values that he instilled in me and my teammates, helped me to mature over the four years that I was there and become a better person. Being his last All-American and being one of his last captains means a lot to me. I’m going to try to pay him back by upholding what he taught me while I’m in the NFL.”
Despite the Sandusky scandal that devastated the Penn State community and cost Paterno his job, Still was named the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and was widely-projected to be a first round NFL draft pick. But the 6’5”, 305 lb. defensive tackle slipped to the second round where the Bengals selected him 53rd overall.
“That does provide some added motivation for me because I felt like I didn’t get the respect that I deserved and I want to go out and show everybody why I should have been drafted higher,” said Still. “I plan on proving that. It’s up to me to go out and show everybody.”
Still was not on the field during last week’s mandatory minicamp because of what he described as a minor back strain, but Devon did take part in previous workouts while beginning to learn Mike Zimmer’s defense.
“I love being a Bengal and I think that I’m fitting in very well,” said Still. “In the time that I had on the field, I think I started to understand the defense and what they expect me to do and what role I have to play.
“I’ve been through this before at Penn State. I was injured my first two years there when I was trying to make an impression on the coaches and that helped me understand what I have to do, so that when I do get back on the field I can hit the ground running. (My back) feels a lot better, but I think they’re just being cautious with me.”
Still figures to play a significant role in the Bengals defensive line rotation as a rookie, adding bulk to one of the deepest and most talented units on the team.
“They are a close-knit group and they bring in the rookies and try to teach them as much as possible,” said Still. “I think they all bring something different to the defensive line and obviously with me being a three-technique, I watch a lot of what Geno Atkins does. He’s a Pro Bowler and a heck of a football player. Hopefully, with me playing behind him, I can learn a lot. I didn’t know how good of a player he was until I had a chance to watch him on tape. He’s a great football player. His quickness really stands out.”
Atkins was a fourth round draft pick who has blossomed into one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in football. Still hopes to follow a similar storyline.
“I’m motivated because I want to be great,” Devon told me. “I want to make an impact on the NFL.”
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