New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty was kind enough to speak with me over the phone earlier last week to talk some Patriots football, but also to talk about an important cause – the fight against sickle cell disease (SCD).
SCD is a hereditary blood disorder that changes the shape of red blood cells and is accompanied by a bevy of life-long and sometimes life-threatening health problems. The disease affects nearly 100,000 people.
The McCourty twins are determined to help.
At the forefront of the fight is Devin and his twin brother Jason’s Tackle Sickle Cell campaign–an initiative to educate the public and raise both awareness and funding for the fight against the disease.
While Devin has been busy helping the SCD community, he’s also been busy with Patriots football, and of course the All-Pro safety made time to answer some football questions as well.
You and your brother Jason have done a lot for the SCD community through your Tackle Sickle Cell campaign. How did this campaign come to be, and why is it so important to you and your brother?
“Our aunt has the disease. We’re really close to her. She’s really been the inspiration.”
Devin’s aunt was told by doctors when she was young that she may not live to see thirty five years old. She’s now sixty-four years old and running strong.
“Seeing everything she’s gone through with fighting the disease, she’s really the motivation for everything we do with the campaign.”
You just finished the second annual Tackle Sickle Cell 5K run/walk, a major fundraising event for Tackle Sickle Cell, on June 14th in Jersey City, NJ. How did it go?
“It was a better turnout than the year before, which was the goal,” Devin told me with obvious excitement in his voice. “Its just a really cool event. A bunch of people got there early to register and while we’re registering and hanging around we’re taking pictures, signing autographs and interacting with everyone.”
Devin was thrilled about all the connections he’s starting to see at the event. “You see different families interacting and you hear ‘Where are you from’ and ‘Why are you here?’. Now that we’ve included the Blood Drive and the Casino Night, people get to see each other two or three times a year.”
“That is really what we love about what we’re doing so far. People being able to open new relationships and talk about different things they are going through with the disease.”
September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, how are some other ways folks can get involved and help?
“We just want to do as much as possible to get involved. The Twitter chat is great because people can ask whatever they want and we can get a lot of sickle cell information out there. PSAs are always fun, especially with us being in the NFL because it gives us a platform to spread the message about sickle cell. I think that can catch people’s ears and allow them to learn something. Close to 100,000 people [have this] disease and I don’t think people understand how serious it is. I think having the PSA and the social media chat gives it a good chance to get the word out there and get more people talking.”
Your teammate and fellow safety Duron Harmon recently mentioned that he’s been studying Earl Thomas, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner and yourself in the offseason to help his game out. Are there any safeties that you like to study in the offseason?
“Yeah, I watch some guys, but I’m a little older than Duron, so I don’t like to give away my secrets,” Devin responded jokingly. “I definitely watch some guys though.”
Did any young offensive players stand out to you at OTAs and minicamp?
“I love watching our young receivers, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins. I love watching those two because they put a lot of work in.”
New England’s typical high-flying passing attack was sometimes stifled last season, due in large part to young receivers still learning the ropes.
According to Devin though, they are getting better.
“It’s always great when you can watch young guys get better each time they step on the field. I thought at OTAs and minicamp, you could see those two guys still working hard to get better. It just stood out in my mind.”
You’re entering your fifth year as a pro. You’ve been to a Super Bowl, three AFC Championships games and a number of playoff games. Is there one play that sticks out in your mind?
Devin has accomplished a lot as a pro, but it’s clear there’s only one goal on his mind: winning a super bowl.
“The first play that comes to my mind when I think about all the big games is the pass Eli Manning made to Mario Manningham in the Super Bowl on a two-minute drive,” Devin responded with some pain in his voice. “That really took them down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown to win the Super Bowl. That was really the key play of the drive. That play is forever ingrained into my mind”
While the loss in the Super Bowl certainly stung, Devin admitted it hasn’t all been bad.
“The most memorable [good] moment of my career so far was probably the Thanksgiving game in my rookie year when we played the Lions. I had two interceptions. That was like a dream come true to play on Thanksgiving. You always talk about it as a kid. The whole family watches football on Thanksgiving. I remember after that game I had so many text messages and phone calls–because everyone is watching football on Thanksgiving. So that was probably the coolest experience that I’ve had as a pro.”
Who is the toughest wide receiver, tight end or running back you’ve ever had to cover, whether at safety or cornerback?
“The toughest match-up at corner, I’d say is when I was covering Brandon Marshall when we played Miami twice a year. That was always a tough cover.”
Marshall is now with the Bears, a team the Patriots will face in Week 8 this year. Although, Darrelle Revis will likely be tasked with covering the giant receiver.
As for toughest match-up at safety, Devin pointed to another Dolphin and someone he likely will be covering next season.
“At safety, I think one of the toughest covers is [Charles] Clay from Miami. He’s a guy that doesn’t get that much talk about because he’s not the true 6’4”, 265-pound tight end, but Charles Clay is a really tough match-up. He’s a bigger guy and he’s quick and he has good speed. So he’s tough.”
Devin also mentioned playing the New Orleans Saints last season, and how it was “very tough to cover” Darren Sproles coming out of the backfield.
It’s early in the process, but if you could pick one or two words that would describe what the 2014 Patriots defense is all about, what would those words be?
“What we’ll be, we don’t know yet, but if I have to pick, I’d say a smart and tough football team.”
Smart and tough? Bill Belichick would approve.
“You know, defensively, we always talk about [playing] offenses where it really takes all the talent–don’t get me wrong, we have some very talented defensive guys–but a lot of it is just effort and playing tough, hard-nosed football. I think that if we can do that this year, it will make the difference in our season, because everyone has been talking about all the names we have on our defense now, but we have to play too. [We need to] be tough and we need to get mad at everything we give up out there defensively if we want to be a really good defense.”