Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, and Donald Driver are names every NFL fan knows. Why? Because they had good, and in some cases, great NFL careers, despite not attending a division one school in college. That is exactly the plan for Shepherd University wide receiver Devin Phelps, who is hoping to be drafted by an NFL team in the upcoming NFL Draft later this week.
Shepherd is one of the better division two programs in the country, but the path to get there for the humble Phelps was not easy.
Phelps grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and as a high school student and athlete, attended football powerhouse Dunbar High School. However, Phelps would never play a single snap for Dunbar. “Poor grades and some discord between me and the coaches were contributing factors, ” Phelps told Pro Football Magazine.
That didn’t cause him to give up, as he found a way to keep playing football by playing for a club arena football league team. It was playing for this team that allowed Phelps to meet the head football coach at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Coach Messay Hailemariam. Playing at St. Frances under Coach Hailemariam allowed Phelps to grow both academically and as a football player. His grades improved and he was doing well on the field as well. Things were looking up and Phelps was looking to go to college and play football.
Then, Phelps experienced a life-changing and painful event with the passing of his mother in 2014. “This changed me in a way that is still hard to explain, ” he said. “Losing someone so close to me, and someone who I loved more than anyone in the world is obviously the most painful thing a person can ever go through.” Phelps didn’t give up and wanted to everything he could to make her proud.
That he did following his final season at St. Frances, as he committed to Monmouth University, a division one football program. His first year at Monmouth, Phelps showed some promise despite battling injuries. However, he was still dealing with the struggle and pain of losing his mother, and ended up leaving Monmouth halfway through his second season there.
Looking for his next team led Phelps to Bowie State University, a division two school with about 6,000 students less than an hour away from Phelps’ home. “I had high hopes going to Bowie. When I got to Bowie, it was a different story,” said Phelps.
“I didn’t start off on the right foot with some of the coaches, or the players, and I also experienced a real injury for the first time in my football career, which didn’t exactly boost my morale.” The season did not go well for Phelps at Bowie State, and he ended up requesting another transfer. This transfer would end up being a good one, as Phelps found Shepherd University in West Virginia, a division two school that has had quite a bit of success recently, having gone undefeated in three of the past five seasons.
Due to transfer rules, Phelps had to sit out his first year at Shepherd, but took the time to reflect. Phelps said, “I looked deep inside myself and pushed myself further than ever before both mentally and physically. I worked out hard, I thought hard, and I gained a sense of selflessness that I hadn’t experienced before.” He also made the Dean’s List for the first time in his collegiate career.
Phelps’ first and only season on the field for Shepherd University was a good one, with him amassing over 1,000 yards receiving, garnering First-Team All PSAC honors, and the team making the playoffs. He told us he is “forever grateful to Shepherd for accepting me, showing me love, and giving me the chance to be my true self.”
He also managed to attend Marshall’s pro day before all of the cancellations due to COVID-19, and ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, with a 35″ vertical jump, and 10’01” broad jump.
In the meantime, Phelps is staying in shape at home, working out at his make-shift gym, hoping his perseverance and hard work ends up in another dream of his coming true — playing in the National Football League.
(Photo by Jack Ransom/Shepherd University)