The New York Jets are decided underdogs heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
It’s a familiar, yet comfortable, situation for at least two of the Jets’ players.
Mike DeVito and Matt Mulligan got their opportunity to play Division I college football at the University of Maine, where the Black Bears often were underdogs as members of the Colonial Athletic Association.
DeVito and Mulligan have continued to build off that dynamic during their pro careers.
DeVito, who hails from Wellfleet, Mass., and played at Nauset Regional High School, is in the Jets’ regular defensive line rotation again this season.
Mulligan, a native of West Enfield and a graduate of Penobscot Valley High School in Howland, is New York’s third-string tight end and plays on special teams.
UMaine continues to have a presence in the playoffs, even after Mulligan, DeVito and the Jets knocked the San Diego Chargers, and standout former Black Bears linebacker Stephen Cooper, out of the playoffs last weekend.
DeVito, who stands 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, has been a solid and improved player with New York. The third-year pro has appeared in 38 career games as a backup defensive end and nose tackle, but he earned a start earlier this season.
He has made 61 tackles, including a quarterback sack last weekend at San Diego. DeVito, who plays all three line positions, also has three fumble recoveries this season.
His role has continued to evolve after the team lost Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament during Week 6. Then, last weekend, end Shaun Ellis broke his hand. He is expected to play Sunday with the hand in a cast and wrapped up.
“He’s [DeVito] really willed himself to be a better football player,” Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. “Here is a guy that was a street free agent who is now, I think, one of our better defensive linemen. … And he’s not just out there because we need 11. He’s out there because he does his job, and he does it well.”
DeVito was signed in May 2007 after completing his career with UMaine, where he was a two-time, all-conference performer at nose tackle. He initially was offered a $1,000 scholarship by Black Bears coach Jack Cosgrove.
This season, DeVito reportedly is earning $460,000. In September, he signed a three-year contract extension that included a $1 million signing bonus, according to NYJetscap.com. He will earn $1.475 million in 2011 and $1.31 million in 2012.
Mulligan, a 6-4, 270-pounder, has appeared in five games this season with the Jets. He has played sparingly in both of New York’s AFC playoff road wins.
He made his first, and only, NFL reception in the Jets’ Dec. 13 game at Tampa Bay.
Mulligan was claimed off waivers Sept. 6 from the Tennessee Titans. He spent the 2008-09 season on the Titans’ practice squad after spending the first two months of his pro career on the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins, who had signed him as an undrafted free agent in May 2008.
Reportedly, Mulligan’s base salary for this season is $310,000 and will be bumped to $395,000 in 2010-11 and $460,000 during 2011-12.