Utah State safety Devin Centers has the NFL in his blood

By Jeff Hunter

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19 2014 3:05 p.m. MDT

Utah State defensive back Devin Centers celebrates an interception to the cheers of his teammates during fall camp in Logan.

Jeff Hunter

LOGAN — After a large portion of their secondary moved on to try to forge professional football careers, it seems only natural that one of the players the Aggies are counting on this season already has the NFL in his blood.

After turning heads during the spring, sophomore safety Devin Centers has continued his impressive play during the first two weeks of Utah State’s fall camp and has his coaches feeling a bit better about losing four starters from last year’s secondary unit. Safety Maurice Alexander (St. Louis Rams) and cornerback Nevin Lawson (Detroit Lions) were both selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft, while cornerbacks Tay Glover-Wright (Atlanta Falcons) and Quinton Byrd (Kansas City Chiefs) ended up signing free-agent contracts.

Centers certainly hopes to follow in the footsteps of his former teammates in a few years, not to mention those of his father. Larry Centers played 14 seasons in the NFL, primarily as a fullback for the Cardinals. The three-time All-Pro, who also spent time with Washington, Buffalo and New England, holds the NFL record for most receptions by a running back (827) and is generally regarded as the finest pass-catching fullback in league history.

“I don’t think most people know,” Devin Centers said of his NFL heritage. “But after they see the number and the last name, they kind of start piecing it together. But I don’t go around bragging about it. I just try to worry about myself, and know that aspect.”

Centers, who wears No. 37 like Larry Centers did for most of his career, grew up in Chandler, Arizona, with his mother, Vada Lonnie. He said the last few years “things have been kind of rocky” with his father, “but we’ve worked on our relationship.”

A standout track star at Chandler High School, Devin Centers said his dad encouraged him to continue to play football, but he didn’t have many offers coming out of high school and strongly considered trying to go to college as a track athlete. While on the fence, Centers ended up calling current USU linebacker Michael Okonkwo, who also played at Chandler High School.

“I asked him what it was like up here, and he said it was nice and that I would like it,” Centers recalled. “So, I asked him to talk to his coaches, and they ended up coming to talk to me. After that, I was set on it. I said, ‘OK, Utah State it is.’ ”

Centers redshirted during the 2012 season, then saw action in 13 games last year, primarily on special teams where he blocked a team-high two punts. With the loss of the four starters and two other veteran safeties in Clayton Christensen and Cameron Sanders, there was no shortage of opportunities during USU’s spring practices, and Centers responded by being seemingly everywhere.

“That guy made a play every time the lights went on, whether it was corner, safety, nickel, blocking a punt. I’m excited to watch him,” USU head coach Matt Wells said at the start of fall camp.

Just to make sure no one forgot about him over the summer, Centers ended snagging three interceptions during the Aggies' first two practices, including two that he took back for would-be touchdowns.

“He’s just picked up where he left off and been a really, really good playmaker back there during fall camp,” USU defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said of Centers. “He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s actually playing multiple spots, which is kind of refreshing. He can play into the boundary, he plays the field and he can play nickel and he can play dime.

“You usually don’t get a guy that can do that and still play at a high level, so it’s a credit to him and the amount of football that he knows.”

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