A new page is being written in the annals of Plano Wildcat football.
There have been players come through the system to go on and play at about every prestigious college in the nation and pick up All-America honors and national championships on the way to the NFL draft – one selected as high as fifth – and all-pro NFL careers. There have been West Point cadets and an Air Force Academy class president.
But never has a Plano Wildcat had an opportunity to play for the Dallas Cowboys. That could all be changing.
Dan DeVega, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound lineman, will have a chance to win a job with his favorite team – other than the Wildcats, of course.
He has been invited to a Cowboys tryout camp. They need a deep snapper and DeVega will have three days to show the organization he’s the one they want. He will report Thursday.
“I’ve been a Cowboys fan my entire life,” he said. “If it works out, it will be my dream come true. This is my team.”
DeVega was a longshot at best for this opportunity. He didn’t start playing football until his freshman year in high school and only made the ‘B’ team. He didn’t really fit at any position.
“I was on junior varsity as a junior and I moved around a lot. I tried right tackle and defensive tackle,” DeVega said. “I was trying to find a place to play.”
That’s when Scott Smith stepped in. The former Plano defensive coordinator asked DeVega to try his hand at being a deep snapper – a position about as quirky as being a kicker.
“It was really slow getting to the punter. I just figured if they needed someone that bad, I’d try it,” DeVega said. “I had no idea anything like this would come out of it.”
He snapped to kicker Nick Williams and together they moved to varsity as seniors in 2003. It was an opportunity for a player with DeVega’s size to get noticed on one of the most storied programs in Texas football history.
Except Plano never won a game that season. It had a chance in overtime in the final week of the season, but Richardson Berkner was able to escape John Clark Field with a win.
Then he wound up at Collin County Community College, where there is no football team. His future in the sport seemed bleak at best.
“I thought I was done with football,” DeVega said. “I guess I wasn’t ready to quit.”
He decided to give it one more shot at Texas A&M-Commerce after seeing the campus when he attended his grandfather’s funeral. He made the decision based on the opportunity to be closer to his grandmother.
Everything started to fall into place. He had to redshirt in 2005 and then saw action in seven games the next season, finding a place as the deep snapper. He returned to the role the following season and TAMU-C led the conference in field goal percentage. He didn’t get his first start on the offensive line until 2008, about the time someone told him he might have a future as a long snapper. He started getting serious about it.
“I was fortunate enough that I caught the Cowboys’ eye,” he said. “I had a lot of people in my corner.”
But news travels fast in Plano. After being invited to the Cowboys tryout camp, DeVega thought he would surprise his mother, Lea Anne.
“I called to tell her about it,” he said. “She knew before I did.”
Then he wanted to tell his best friend, Ryan Brence, who was overseas in the field as an Army Ranger.
“He couldn’t take a call,” DeVega said. “He sent me back a text. It said, ‘That’s amazing.’ ”
It is considering DeVega’s trek into, out and back into football. He had even begun work on a master’s degree and had taken a job at a Plano bookstore.
“It’s a nice place to work,” DeVega said. “I’d like to play football for a living.”
And he’s got a lot of people pulling for him to do so.
“This is a tremendous thrill. This is a huge deal for all of us,” said Gerald Brence, his head coach at Plano. “We know he’s got a long ways to go in front of him. I’ll tell you this, don’t count him out. He’s got the skill, talent and size they need.”
Six years after graduating from Plano, he’s finding his greatest support from those he said always believed in him.
“You never really realize what coaches are saying to you,” he said. “They really know what they are talking about. They want the best for you. I learned a lot from the coaches at Plano.”