New Mexico Highlands linebacker Devin Coney Sr. has had a long journey to concluding his collegiate career, but now he finds himself as one of the most productive small-school linebackers in the nation.
The two-time All-RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) defender finished the 2023 season with 99 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks. After performing at a high level each of the past three seasons for the Cowboys, Coney now looks to carry that success onto the professional level and enter the 2024 NFL Draft.
Windy City Gridiron had the chance to speak with Coney about his aggressive style of play, the role fatherhood plays in his life, his collegiate career, and more.
JI: You’ve had a unique journey getting to the professional level. For those unfamiliar, can you explain what the journey’s been like to get here to your final year at New Mexico Highlands?
DC: Yes, it’s been a long time for me, especially coming from the JUCO level. I was an All-American at Erie Community College, and I was also an All-American at College of DuPage, before I ended up being here at New Mexico Highlands, where I’ve been competing for three years, and I competed at a very high level, as well. I’m very blessed to have a good playing career, no serious injuries or anything. I love to compete every time I get a chance.
JI: Your production over the last two years has been impressive, especially having notched double-digit TFLs in both seasons. What goes into being able to play with the aggression and toughness you do?
DC: First, it basically starts with preparation: me preparing my eyes and looking for keys throughout their film that whole week while I’m studying my opponent, just finding a way to attack the line of scrimmage. [Then,] understanding the blocking schemes, reading combinations of blocks and knowing when to shoot those gaps or when just press with my hands. It’s all about preparation and technique, as well as flying around the field, man. At New Mexico Highlands, we always preach running to the ball as a defense, and I take pride in it, as well.
JI: Was there a specific moment you could point to that made you say, “okay, I can make a career out of this?”
DC: I’d go back to my junior college days, when I finished a season with 149 tackles. I’m not really a big guy that keeps up with the stats until the end of the season, but when I turn the page and look back, I say, “wow, it was a lot of tackles that I made...I know if I can keep this up, there’s no way I can’t get to the next level.”
JI: You recently got named All-Conference in the RMAC for the second year in a row. What do those nominations mean to you?
DC: Man, I’m very appreciative. People don’t look at it like that, but [the RMAC] a very competitive level at Division II. Two or three teams [in the conference] make the playoffs, you know, we just have a No. 1-ranked team in the nation in our conference (Colorado School of Mines), so to be selected All-Conference, man, with the level of competition that we have, it speaks highly of myself.
JI: One thing I see when I watch you is the Karate Kid pose you strike on some of your big plays. How did that come about?
DC: Man, that’s a big shout out to Demario Davis, the New Orleans Saints linebacker. Being back from Louisiana, going back in that area and watching the Saints every Sunday, I was going through some tough times, just getting through the grind and trying to stay on my path to greatness. I’ve just seen him start speaking about being a man of God, and the best thing he hit was the control of have all the workload on your shoulders, and you’re just lifting yourself up to it all, pushing throughout adversity. It’s more than just the Karate Kid pose; it’s mainly about being a man of God. Demario Davis, he’s a big inspiration to me, and I just took the move from there. I wouldn’t go to perfect it unless I was playing at a high level (laughs).
JI: I’m a man of faith myself. Can you speak to the role that plays in your life?
DC: Oh, yeah. It’s everything that I was raised on, going to church every Sunday and putting God. I come from a praying household, and with this college lifestyle, everything is a struggle to maintain and keep your head up and stay locked in every day to accomplish the goals which you set for yourself. That pushes me a lot to get through any hard times, that I have always faith in God.
JI: It’s nice to have something to come back to and place your trust in.
DC: Right, it’s just His personal plan. You got to believe in your gifts. You got to believe in you, so keep pushing through all, embracing it all the time.
JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?
DC: Right now, with me being in New Mexico Highlands, all my free time basically just goes to my studies and training. That’s all I’ve been doing 24/7 since I got here for the past three years. I’ll be getting my degree here in a few weeks in December, and also getting ready for the Combine. I’m always trying to add something to my game, so my free time is all football, to be honest with you.
JI: You’re actually Devin Coney Sr.; what does fatherhood mean to you?
DC: Once you become a father, it’s no longer about you. You’re putting that child of yours first, and that motivates you as a person, as a man. Like we spoke about earlier, my faith in God, [you’re] trying to make it work together for your loved ones. Being a father is the best experience ever. I can never give up on myself; someone’s always watching. Someone special to me is always watching my every move.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
DC: You’re getting the guy that might beat you coming to the office every single day (laughs). I’m the last one leaving. Honestly, man, I’m a very hard worker, and not only that, when I play at a high level, I elevate those around me and lift up their ability to play at a high level, because I pride myself in being a leader. [I’m] making sure everybody’s on [the same page] and making sure we’re running the defense correctly. Me, as a linebacker, I feel like there’s no better linebacker in this division or in this draft class that can get downhill faster, that could run sideline to sideline faster, that could make checks, make audibles and recognize formations and tendencies better than me. I feel like I’m a very smart linebacker.