Tai’yon Devers did what many recruits do when they want to get ahead of the game going into college football: He graduated from high school early.
He got a new education Thursday night in the Gophers opener. He learned he can be a factor in big-time college football, and that the game’s new closer watch on targeting is legit.
Joining the Gophers in January after a prep school year, the 6-4, 215-pound Atlanta native wasn’t one of the standout newcomers of the spring defensively.
Actually, Devers was mostly noticed for his slight frame for a defensive lineman.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when he picked up two sacks and forced fumbles — both sparking Gophers touchdowns — Thursday to help the Gophers take a halftime lead in their 30-23 victory over Oregon State.
“He’s been that explosive off the edge all through practice,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. “The more he learns and the more he develops, the more ways we’ll be able to get him on the field.”
But in the fourth quarter, his terrific first game came to an early end. Devers was ejected for targeting after hitting quarterback Darell Garretson in the helmet after a throw.
Oregon State took a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, but Devers’ first sack forced a fumble by Garretson that was recovered by Steven Richardson.
Minnesota used that turnover to tie the score on a six-play drive capped by Mitch Leidner’s touchdown run to open the second quarter.
Devers wasn’t finished. His next sack came from the blind side on Garretson, jarring the quarterback’s body as the ball came loose. Rodney Smith’s touchdown moments later was the payoff for Devers’ second big play of the night.
The video of his sacks immediately got posted and drew rave reviews on social media.
“He’s kind of a freak athlete; he’s really speedy,” linebacker Jack Lynn said. “We saw it all through camp. On the big stage, he showed what he’s really about.”
In fall camp, defensive line coach Jeff Phelps praised Devers for putting on weight over the summer.
“I know [strength and conditioning coach Eric] Klein and his crew coming together and helping him out has really put him in a scenario that he can hang in there with some of the big guys in the Big Ten,” Phelps said. “We’re excited about that.”
Devers played football for the first time as a senior at Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla., in 2014. The scholarship offers were pretty slim even with his 12 sacks and being named defensive MVP of an all-star game in that lone high school season.
But after spending a season at Georgia Prep Sports Academy last year, Devers was spotted by Gophers assistant Brian Anderson and picked up an offer. The only other program to show him serious consideration was Central Florida, where he took his second official visit.
Phelps could see potential in Devers in fall camp and expected him to play as a true freshman.
“That’s why we brought him here,” he said. “He’s a very determined young man from a great background and he’s ready to get after it.”