20 NFL players to watch in 2020: New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty

Through Sept. 13, the first Sunday of the 2020 NFL season,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting one Christ-following player each day for 20 days.

It’s no secret that when the New England Patriots find a gem, they hang on to them.

Tom Brady, of course, is the most notable example, though he recently left New England after 20 seasons for Tampa Bay. The longest-tenured Patriot now is special teams ace Matthew Slater, who’s entering year 13. He’s followed by receiver Julian Edelman, who’s going into his 12th season.

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Right behind them is the team’s defensive leader, safety Devin McCourty, who’s entering his 11th year with New England. Last week, he was named a team captain for the 10th straight campaign.

The 2020 season is certain to be unlike any other, and thus, McCourty’s leadership will be needed more than ever. With eight players opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, the Patriots lead the league in that category. Two of the opt-outs were starters from last year’s top-ranked defense (safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Dont’a Hightower).

The Patriots in 2019 allowed a league-low 275.9 yards and 14.1 points per game. Their 36 takeaways were second in the NFL, but their +21 turnover difference was tops, as were their 25 interceptions.

Five of those picks fell into the hands of McCourty, the most he’s collected in one year since 2012. He also added a fumble recovery. McCourty’s 58 total tackles were a career low, but that could be viewed as a positive — when your safety isn’t making tackles, that typically means the defenders up front are doing a great job.

Regardless, McCourty has established himself as someone who can be depended on to do his job. He’s started all 155 of his NFL games since being selected by the Patriots 27th overall in 2010 out of Rutgers. He’s earned two trips to the Pro Bowl (2010 and 2016) and helped New England win three Super Bowls.

There was some speculation after winning Super Bowl LII that McCourty might call it a career, considering he’d won three championships, the last of which was with his twin brother, Jason, making them the first set of twins to play and win a Super Bowl. But Devin announced that he would return in an interview with Sports Spectrum in February 2019, saying it was because of the platform football provides.

“Me playing football is doing something more than just winning games and playing Super Bowls. If you play this game only for Super Bowls, you’re going to be very empty,” he said. “I love being able to just step away — being down here [at a Christian conference for NFL players] this week and then next week going to do a football camp in Puerto Rico with the family, it really starts to make you realize the platform you get to use to do some special things.”

McCourty has used that platform for good, such as donating $90,000 for computers to go to students in New York who needed to do their schoolwork at home during the coronavirus pandemic. He’s also used his platform to share about his faith in Christ, even in the midst of pain.

Devin and his wife, Michelle, were due to have their third child in July, but on May 24, after 21 hours of labor, baby Mia was stillborn with the umbilical cord around her neck. It crushed Devin and Michelle, but they said they saw God throughout one of the toughest seasons of their lives.

As he shared on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in July, Devin turned to faithful believers in his life, including his brother Jason, Slater and longtime college and NFL teammate Duron Harmon.

“I saw God right away,” Devin said. “… I text them and I tell them what happened. And I’m just honest with them and I tell them, ‘Man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through tomorrow.’”

They each prayed with him and for him and directed him back to encouraging passages in the Bible.

“I will say one of the biggest blessings of everything was how many people reached out to us that had [gone] through similar things — sometimes even more heartbreaking — and just how vulnerable and open people were talking to us about it,” Devin said. “It definitely lifted us, gave us a sense of community … And even with God’s presence, you felt Him there, but you just felt like, ‘Man, is there anybody else here?’ And when so many people reached out, it just felt like we entered a new community of people.”

McCourty said he remained grounded in his walk with Christ during that time by learning from lessons in the Book of James.

“I feel like [God has] shown us a little bit of that purpose, and I think with everything going on in 2020, you can’t say it’s done. He’s still working on us,” he said, adding, “I think we’ve got to keep walking in that light and spending time with Him daily.”