UMaine defensive back Jeffrey DeVaughn leads the team in solo tackles this season. The co-captain also has an interception and fumble return for a touchdown after having shoulder surgery during the offseason. Credit: Peter Buehner | UMaine Athletics

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine strong safety Jeffrey DeVaughn made up his mind to attend the University of Maine after a meeting in a Dunkin’ Donuts with assistant coach Joe Harasymiak, who is now the head coach.

“There was a blizzard and we didn’t have school that day,” said the native of Folcroft, Pennsylvania, which is 14 miles from Philadelphia. “If he was willing to do that for me, why shouldn’t I go up there and give him my all?”

And when he visited the school, he was sold on the close-knit family environment.

“It was amazing,” said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound DeVaughn, who also embraced the culture change from city life to the rural environment of Maine.

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“I figured if I could make it in Maine, I could make in anywhere in life,” DeVaughn said.

And it has certainly worked out well for him.

DeVaughn, a graduate student, is a co-captain and is leading the team in solo tackles with 40. He also assisted on 10 more, and his 50 total tackles place him fifth on the Colonial Athletic Association-leading Black Bears heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against Elon at Alfond Stadium in Orono.

He also has an interception, six pass breakups and a 66-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

“He is someone who has worked extremely hard to get where he has. He is a great leader on and off the field. He cares about the team first and that’s his best quality. That is what has put him in a position where he is now.

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“He prepares well; he watches a lot of film. That enables him to put himself in the right position, and when you do that, you’re going to make plays,” Harasymiak said.

DeVaughn was humbled by being named a co-captain with tight end-H back Drew Belcher.

That is better than anything I have ever received in my life,” DeVaughn said. “We used to have different captains for every game. And this was chosen by the players, not the coaches. I’m very proud of that.”

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He has taken it to heart and is having his best season.

He accounted for 29 tackles last season, but the former UMaine special teams player of the year was not completely healthy.

He dislocated his shoulder two years ago and “tried to play through it,” DeVaughn said.

But it popped out of place four times in the 44-31 loss to UMass at Fenway Park on Nov. 11, 2017, so he decided to have surgery on it in December.

“I tried to fight through it. But I didn’t want it to keep popping out on me during my final season. I wanted to be the best that I could be,” said DeVaughn, who was also a track star in high school as a conference champion sprinter.

DeVaughn used to be a cornerback but was switched to safety his sophomore year, and he is glad he was.

“You get to get in on way more tackles. You have a lot more chances to make plays at safety,” DeVaughn said. “You’re more of a vocal leader. You make the calls [in the secondary], and people are relying on you because you’re the last man. If someone gets behind you, it’s a touchdown. And I like that challenge each week.”

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Senior free safety Darrius Hart said it has been a pleasure lining up alongside DeVaughn.

“It is important to have confidence in the guy who is next to you so that you know you aren’t also going to have to do somebody else’s job,” Hart said. “With him back there, you never have to worry about that. He prepares himself very well. He really studies his opponent. That’s one of the best things he does. And then his athleticism takes over. He is gifted.”

“He is really smart. He sees the field well,” sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson said.

“We have put [DeVaughn] in a lot of tough situations on the football field, and he has really stepped up his play. He is playing very well right now,” UMaine defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman said. “He gets the guys lined up on the field. He has worked extremely hard.”

“He has gotten better every year. He has worked really hard,” said Belcher, who considers DeVaughn one of his best friends.

In addition to his on-field prowess and his leadership off the field, he is also very active on campus and in the community. He attended the Old Town youth league football banquet last weekend and is in several groups on campus including Male Athletes Against Violence.

“He does everything right, on and off the field,” said Hetherman.

“He represents the university very well,” said Harasymiak.

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“It’s very important to give something back to the community, especially to the kids. There are kids in Maine who don’t think they can play Division I football or don’t think they’re good athletes and I tell them how they can do things (to realize their goals and become a better athlete),” said DeVaughn. “I wish someone did that for me (when I was a youngster).”

He also said being remembered as a football player is one thing but he wants to be remembered as a “good person.”

His idol is his mother, Michelle Norman, who was a single parent during his formative years after his parents divorced early in his life.

“She is really strong. She held the family together. She was a bus driver and then she became a district manager and now she’s a boss. I figured if she could do things like that as a black woman, why can’t I do it as a black man? I love her to death,” said DeVaughn.

DeVaughn has no regrets about his decision to attend UMaine and has been happy with his career and season. He is looking forward to Saturday’s game and the opportunity to lead the Black Bears to the outright CAA title.

“It’s an amazing feeling. But we’ve got to go get it done,” said DeVaughn.

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