CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia running back Noel Devine and wide receiver Jock Sanders will return for their senior seasons instead of entering the NFL draft.
Devine, the team’s leading rusher, and Sanders, the team’s leading receiver, were the Mountaineers’ co-offensive players of the year.
“It’s all about unfinished business on the field and in the classroom,” Devine said Thursday. “West Virginia University and my coaches are doing a great job of preparing me for the NFL and for life after football.”
Devine and Sanders, both Florida natives, entered the program together in 2007 and Devine had dubbed the pair Batman and Robin.
Both are fathers and would be the first in their families to earn college degrees.
Quarterback Jarrett Brown exhausted his eligibility this season and if Devine left, West Virginia would have entered the 2010 season with its most inexperienced backfield in five seasons.
Devine and Sanders made their decisions on the final day eligible underclassmen could declare for the draft.
“I have seen these two really mature and grow, not only on the football field, but in their quest of life,” coach Bill Stewart said. “Obtaining their degrees and preparing for life after football is of utmost importance to them and to our program.”
Devine became the focal point of West Virginia’s running game in 2009 with the departure of Pat White, the top rushing quarterback in college football history.
Devine rushed for 1,465 yards this season, ninth-best in major college football and the fourth-highest total in school history. He scored 13 touchdowns and was an all-Big East selection.
He ran for 168 yards and a score in a 33-21 loss to Florida State in the Gator Bowl. His 3,381 yards in three seasons are the fifth highest in school history.
He’ll need 1,783 yards to break the school career record of 5,164 yards set by Avon Cobourne from 1999-2002.
Devine lost both of his parents to AIDS, witnessed a friend’s murder and spurred attempts by former NFL star Deion Sanders to adopt him while in high school.
“Each year on the team has been important and each of us has given a little bit more. Now it’s time for my senior season with my teammates — and I want it to be a special one, so I am going to give even more,” Devine said. “I really enjoy playing in front of the greatest fans in America, but my ultimate goal is to earn my degree.”
Sanders led the Mountaineers with 72 catches for 688 yards and three TDs. He would need 55 catches next season to break the school career record of 191 set by David Saunders from 1995-98.
“There’s a group of us that came in together, played together, grew up together, bonded together and want to leave together,” Sanders said.
(This version CORRECTS SUBS 4th graf to correct to 2007 sted 2006)