Football has played a critical role in helping Mike DeVito become the man he is today.
The game also has taken a toll on the body of the 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive lineman.
On Monday, the former University of Maine star, who spent nine seasons in the National Football League, announced in BDN’s “The Drive” blog that he is retiring.
“I’m going to miss the game like crazy,” said DeVito, who played the last three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs. “It’s been my entire life for the past 18 years, but at the same time I’m excited for the next step.”
DeVito played in only one game for Kansas City during the 2014-2015 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He worked his way back last season and made 19 tackles, including three sacks, in 13 games.
“The past three years, I’ve been injured a ton,” DeVito said from his home in Hampden, citing health concerns as the primary motivation for walking away.
The 31-year-old DeVito was an unrestricted free agent after completing a three-year contract with the Chiefs that paid him approximately $10 million. However, he said recent talks with KC involved a much more modest salary.
“My reasons for going back to football would be just to prolong the inevitable, not having to say goodbye to the game,” he said.
It was at the urging of his wife, Jessie (Martin), that DeVito agreed he should not continue to subject himself to the physical punishment of the NFL.
“She said, ‘Look, you can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep watching you get injured,’” DeVito said. “She was able to kind of help me make a calculated decision and weigh the factors, so I thank God for her.”
“My wife and my son [Rocco, 2½] are my priority, so that kind of made it an easy decision for me,” he added.
Last season, DeVito suffered two concussions, which he said were the first of his career. The increased awareness about the potential long-term ramifications of head injuries gave him further pause when considering his future.
“That does start weighing more heavily than the other types of injuries,” DeVito conceded. “You can come back from a knee injury or something like that, but when you start messing with your brain, it starts changing who you are, so you have to be careful with that.”
DeVito said the risk of suffering a concussion is something that is understood, and accepted, by NFL players.
“I knew what I signed up for when I started playing football,” he said. “That’s part of the game and I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the game because of it.”
DeVito’s NFL career began with the team he followed as a youngster, the New York Jets. He spent six seasons there, racking up a career-best 59 tackles in 16 games in 2010.
In all, DeVito appeared in 110 NFL games and posted 250 tackles with 5½ sacks.
In addition to the initial excitement of seeing his name on the back of the Jets jersey and running onto the field for his first game at The Meadowlands, it is the relationships developed with teammates, coaches and staff that make up his fondest memories.
“Being able to play on the same team for three years with my best friend, Matt Mulligan, that was incredible,” DeVito said of the Enfield native and his former UMaine teammate.
He also singled out Chiefs teammate Derrick Johnson, with whom he shared the recovery process after an Achilles’ injury, as a true friend.
“Just to be around the caliber of person like him, what a blessing that was,” DeVito said.
He praised the efforts of former UMaine coaches Jeff Comissiong and Jack Cosgrove, former Jets teammate Kenyon Coleman, and New York pastor Adam Burt as key influences in his personal growth.
“Those are the kinds of relationships I remember, not just the guys who taught me football but guys who taught me how to become a better person,” DeVito said.
His football roots were established by his maternal grandfather, the late Ralph Consiglio, and his father, Vinny DeVito.
Consiglio, the longtime coach at Suffern (New York) High School, helped foster his passion for football. Vinny DeVito, a former professional powerlifter, instilled in him a relentless work ethic and pride in training.
“My grandfather brought me all the knowledge he had and then my dad brings me this Brooklyn toughness with his powerlifting background. The combination of those things was what allowed me to play football at a higher level,” DeVito said.
Cosgrove and his staff saw potential in the young DeVito, who was a 210-pound tight end at Nauset High School on Cape Cod. The Black Bears initially offered DeVito a $1,000 athletic scholarship to attend UMaine.
DeVito embraced the opportunity and pursued excellence on the field with the same urgency he used to chase down opposing ballcarriers and quarterbacks. He became a two-time, All-Atlantic 10 honoree and signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2007.
“The University of Maine football program and coach Cosgrove and all the coaches in the organization over there, they really build character in the players,” DeVito said, “so you’re going to leave that school being tougher, more disciplined.”
DeVito earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting) from UMaine and is now studying toward an online master’s degree in apologetics, reasoned arguments in justification of religious doctrine.
The continued development of DeVito’s Christian faith previously led him to consider becoming a pastor, but he plans to take a step back to consider his options for the future.
“I’m going to continue to pray about that and see what God’s going to have for me,” he said.
While football has helped provide DeVito with many benefits, he ultimately does not want to be defined by his athletic exploits.
“It really was such a blessing. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity,” he said.
“This [retirement] is a very difficult thing,” he added. “There’s a piece of me missing a little bit, because it’s been what I’ve done and who I’ve been for the past 18 years.”