Through 48 hours of Elite 11 finals action, Tommy DeVito felt like he was on the cusp of a personal breakthrough.
The 6'2", 185-pound New Jersey quarterback, considered a 3-star prospect and competing alongside 23 positional contemporaries from June 3 to 5 in Redondo Beach, California, knew he was perhaps one strong performance away from pulling off a surprise.
DeVito, who arrived at the event rated No. 76 nationally among pro-style passers in the class of 2017's composite rankings, needed to ace one last challenge—a mentally demanding series of seven-on-seven reps—to earn one of 12 invitations to The Opening, an elite invite-only July showcase held at Nike's world headquarters.
“I studied my playbook all night before seven-on-seven, then woke up and studied more during breakfast," DeVito told Bleacher Report. "I kept telling myself, over and over again, to take it one breath and one throw at a time.”
That preparation paid off for the rising senior from Garden State powerhouse Don Bosco Prep. He consistently delivered darts, located receivers in stride and didn't leave much room for debate Sunday evening in the Elite 11 coaches' meeting, where the list of 24 contenders was cut in half.
“He was exceptional," said head coach and Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, who drew comparisons between DeVito and Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers.
When the newest members of Elite 11's storied fraternity were announced via B/R a day later, DeVito was a slam-dunk choice. He'll head to Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening showcase July 5-10, joining an Elite 11 fraternity that features Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff.
“Every year, there’s always a couple kids who come in with a chip on their shoulder," Elite 11 coach Yogi Roth said during the B/R broadcast. "Usually if they ball out the chip falls off, but, no, he stacked it and stacked it and stacked it, and kept ripping it. He’s like ‘I’m proving to you that I’m the dude and I don’t care if nobody believes in me.’”
Despite a successful first season as starter at Don Bosco, an ensuing verbal commitment to Syracuse University and validation in Los Angeles, DeVito should still be able to muster motivation from that chip moving forward. On June 6—the day he learned his fate for The Opening—DeVito carried a composite ranking of No. 121 among all quarterbacks and No. 1,626 overall in the 2017 recruiting class.
“It doesn’t faze me but, yes, it definitely motivates me to show that I shouldn’t be ranked so low," he said while walking off the field following final drills in Southern California. "I try not to let rankings affect me at all, but it does stay in the back of my head and pushes me to compete at a high level.”
If you were to strip away names from shirts and disregard preconceived notions about the two dozen quarterbacks who attended Elite 11 finals, it would be difficult to view DeVito as anything less than a top-10 field general.
“For me, he was one of the biggest mysteries coming into [Elite 11 finals], but he checked all the boxes for me," Student Sports president Brian Stumpf said during the selection special. "From the combine interview to the pro-day workout, and then taking the playbook—which is completely different than what he runs at his high school—and taking it to the field [Sunday] and acing the seven-on-seven competition.”
Don Bosco offensive coordinator Mike Teel, who led Rutgers University to three bowl victories as the Scarlet Knights' starting quarterback, was proud of his young protege. However, unlike most Elite 11 observers, he anticipated DeVito's inclusion in the upper echelon.
“That’s what I expected," he said. "I’ve been around a bunch of quarterbacks at different levels of college football, and you don’t really see many players like Tommy. He’s a talented, talented kid.”
While the rest of America had an opportunity to further evaluate DeVito at Elite 11 finals, Teel spent last season witnessing consistent development up close. A former Don Bosco quarterback himself, the 30-year-old play-caller admits DeVito's role is unlike most you'll find in high school football.
“I think Tommy, maybe more than any quarterback in the program, had expectations that were almost unreachable," Teel said. "Before last season, we hadn’t won a state championship in three years. That’s the first span like that since 2002, when I was in school.
"It’s as close to a college quarterback job as anywhere else at this level because the TV cameras are there and we’re flying in planes to face the best teams in the country. He was at the center of that, and he did a great job of handling adversity the right way.”
The Ironmen, led by longtime head coach Greg Toal, play a national schedule. During his first season behind center as Don Bosco's starter in 2015, Devito encountered talent-laden heavyweights such as Archbishop Rummel (Louisiana), St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia), Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati) and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).
The team lost three games before Halloween, dropping its road matchup at national title contender Bishop Gorman, and a pair of narrow in-state clashes against St. Joseph (Montvale) Regional and Paramus Catholic, where No. 1 overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary anchored the defensive front.
Don Bosco would later avenge the St. Joseph defeat in a state championship showdown. DeVito delivered two touchdown tosses in a 21-10 victory that halted the team's title drought and earned him a place in program lore.
The emerging junior catalyst helped fuel a season-ending five-game win streak while taking ownership of a revamped offensive attack. Teel became coordinator in late May 2015, leaving him limited time to work with Don Bosco's latest gunslinger.
“It was a sprint for all of us. I changed the entire system and terminology for what we did on offense," he said. "So this is a kid playing the toughest schedule in the country, trying to prepare for that competition each week and attempting to learn an entirely new system. We all had our growing pains early on.”
Teel didn't ask DeVito to dominate during his first fall as a starter, as he tallied 1,689 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions, per Syracuse.com's Stephen Bailey (via NJ.com's Braulio Perez). But dynamics changed during the crucial regular-season finale against fellow New Jersey football factory DePaul Catholic.
"We had a tough time running the football, and at halftime we’re down [by nine points], so I went up to him and said 'You’re going to win us this game. Let’s go,'" Teel said.
DeVito fueled a 34-26 comeback victory with two second-half touchdown passes and connected for three total scores in the contest, effectively alleviating any apprehension Teel may have felt about opening things up for his young quarterback during postseason efforts.
"He went out there in the second half and methodically threw the ball all over their defense, which had some very talented players," Teel said. "That was really the turning point for him. He was ready to take over games and be a dominant player.”
Less than a month later, DeVito became a state champion, and a flurry of scholarship offers followed in February. He pledged to new Syracuse head coach Dino Babers in April after weighing alternative opportunities at Rutgers, Temple, Boston College and Maryland.
“It’s a high-paced, high-scoring offense with that staff," DeVito said. "Syracuse is less than four hours away from home, so it’s not too far for family and friends to come watch games.”
Long before he warranted attention from Babers, Teel or Dilfer, Devito worked arduously with personal quarterback coach Leon Clarke, who also helped develop 2015 Elite 11 finalist and Tennessee Volunteers newcomer Jarrett Guarantano.
The two first met when DeVito was just six years old, when he became Clarke's youngest client ever. At that time, he was simply looking to take snaps for his flag football squad.
As their relationship grew, the craft of quarterbacking became an obsession for DeVito. Clarke gradually commanded more from his student, and that's exactly what he got each time he raised the bar.
“It goes back to having countless repetitions and doing them right," Clarke said. "I can recall those hot summer days where this kid would put in 60 minutes of literally just drops. I would put a hula-hoop on the ground and make him throw from inside it to teach him how to develop a base and center of gravity. All those little things became almost indigenous to him.”
Elements of his approach as a passer progressively became more polished, setting the stage for a scintillating Elite 11 finals performance. This sharpness extends beyond the pocket, evidenced to DeVito during the three-day span more than ever before.
“When we were on the beach at six in the morning, running through the ocean and challenging ourselves, I realized my mental toughness is pretty good among some of the other Elite 11 guys. I was proud of that," he said.
Mental toughness is a required trait for the leader who issues orders in his offensive huddle, and Elite 11 competition has a way of separating studs from the pack. DeVito contended with quarterbacks carrying significantly higher ratings (the top nine prospects in composite rankings attended) and far more lengthy recruitments (fellow finalist Tate Martell received his first offer in seventh grade and has spent time committed to Washington, Texas A&M and Ohio State) but never looked out of his element.
“He really balled out. These people are really sleeping on him," Alabama quarterback commit Mac Jones said. "That kid can play, and from the personality side of things, he was definitely one of the easier guys to talk with out there. I think his recruitment might explode. I don’t know if he’ll stick with Syracuse or not, but he should get some big-time offers soon.”
LSU pledge Myles Brennan, another Elite 11 finalist who will join DeVito at The Opening, shared a similar sentiment.
“It’s really not all about the rankings and the stars that you have. It’s about buying into the process," he said. "Coming in, Tommy had obviously worked tremendous amounts just to get to L.A. He came out to prove it, and he did. He definitely earned that spot.”
DeVito, who qualified for Elite 11 finals with his efforts at a New Jersey regional camp in May, cherished the validation that accompanied his advancement to the next phase of competition.
"The weight dropped off my back, and I was so excited for them to call my name. My mom, dad and girlfriend were crying tears of joy," he said.
Just four months removed from his first Power Five offer, DeVito isn't content quite yet. He'll head to Oregon as the lowest-rated offensive recruit in a collection of talent that includes 166 total invited athletes.
"Obviously right now you can scrutinize the rankings, and maybe everybody has Tommy too low right now, but the ranking that will be remembered is the one in February," 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said. "He's going to have a shot to continue to climb because he's on our radar now, where he wasn't really on the radar before his junior year.
"I knew who he was because I know his quarterback coach, but there was still no varsity tape, so you've just got to put him on your watch list."
A post-Elite 11 finals bump on that list indicates plenty of heads have already been turned during this process. DeVito has surged 1,011 spots since those three days in Los Angeles, sitting at No. 615 overall and No. 26 among pro-style passers.
“Everything for Tommy has been time," Clarke said. "It wasn’t about yelling from the top of a mountain for recruiting attention, and so many young players are quick to want publicity when they’re not ready for it. He’s done things the right way, waited his turn for an opportunity at Bosco, then went out [to Elite 11 finals] and made a statement.”
If DeVito can state his case in Beaverton as convincingly as he laid things on the line in Los Angeles, historic Elite 11 MVP honors aren't out of the question. Given his championship pedigree at one of America's premier high school programs and a magnificent June showing on the West Coast, expect him to carry the mindset of alpha dog rather than underdog.
"People get used to the ‘big-time’ names at quarterback early in the recruiting process, and they stick with those names without necessarily looking at other guys. Hopefully that’s going to change after what I’ve tried to do," DeVito said. “I’ve been training for this moment since I was six years old. To be able to make it to this point means all the hard work, all the long summer days have truly paid off.
"Now it’s time to prove that again."
Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.
Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.