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Nevada running back Devonte Lee a bruiser on the field and loving father off it

Devonte Lee
Devonte Lee and his son,{ }Chance, and wife, Danielle. (Provided by the Lee family)

Devonte Lee’s job on the football field is to be a battering ram, and the Wolf Pack running back is quite good at that, bruising the opposition as Nevada’s short-yardage and wildcat specialist.

But off the field, he turns into a 5-foot-9, 235-pound teddy bear when serving in a different role, that of dad. Lee’s son, Chance, was born in February 2020, and while Lee remains menacing on the field, he’s far from that as a father.

“Becoming a dad was really a blessing to me,” Lee said. “You never really know love until you have a son, until you have a kid. I feel like it’s another level of motivation, just something else to put on your back for you to grind on, to wake up for every morning. You get to look him in the eyes every day, so I just feel like becoming a dad was one of the best things I could have done.”

Lee isn’t the only father in the Wolf Pack backfield. The team’s starting running back, Toa Taua, also welcomed a child in 2020, about nine months after Chance was born. While Taua and Lee are close friends, the two kids haven’t played together too often as the families take precautions against COVID-19, but Chance was able to attend some of his dad’s home games last season, which was surreal for Lee.

“It was beautiful,” Lee said. “When he was able to be out here, it was a great feeling to look up in the stands and even take pictures with him after the game. He wasn't at the point where he is now. This year is going to be better because he really knows who I am and he's really going to be engaged, so it's going to be a real fun thing to do.”

All spectators at Mackay Stadium this season, including Chance, should continue to see what Lee does best, which is break tackles. In 2020, Lee averaged 6.1 broken tackles per 25 carries, the Mountain West’s best mark. Seventy-two percent of his rushing yards came after first contact. Lee set career highs in rushing yards (427), yards per carry (5.2), receptions (17) and receiving yards (96) while pushing his career touchdown mark to 16, the second most among Nevada returners behind Taua's 18.

The Wolf Pack offense, led by All-MW players Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner, shifted more heavily to a passing approach last season, but Lee and Taua remain valuable members of the self-dubbed Pack Attack. All five of those players are entering their fourth season of college, basically growing up together.

“It’s a very brotherly bond,” Lee said. “It's really like a family. There's nothing that I feel like could break us. I mean, we have arguments here and there, but they’re petty arguments. It’s really just a loving culture out here. Everybody has the same mindset, so it's real easy for us to just tie in with each other because we've got the same goals.”

That goal being to take Nevada's offense to the next level. The Wolf Pack improved from averaging 21.3 points per game in 2019 to 30.8 points per game last season. That ranked 46th in the nation in scoring offense, a figure the key Wolf Pack players felt was an underachievement given the potential the unit had. With Nevada’s offense returning all but one starter from last year, the expectations are heightened.

“I feel like we should go crazy,” Lee said. “I feel like if we don't score 50 points a game, something's going wrong.”

If past seasons are any indication, Lee should average around 10 touches per game, spelling Taua on series and being called upon to get the gritty yards on short-yardage and goal-line situations. That’s not the exact role Lee envisioned when signing with Nevada. He wanted to be the Wolf Pack’s featured back, but he’s more than willing to accept his role if that helps Nevada reach its peak.

“I just know the opportunities are limited, so I try to make the best play I can,” Lee said. “Coming in, I wanted to be the main guy, so I just take an approach that every time I get the ball I just want to prove the fans, I just want to prove to the media that I should be in the game.”

While this is Lee’s senior season, he will have the option of returning to school next year since the 2020 campaign didn’t count against his eligibility clock due to COVID-19. Lee doesn’t know what the future holds but said he wants Wolf Pack fans to remember him as a grinder.

“Anytime I get in the game, I'm trying to either put somebody in the dirt or make a play for the team,” said Lee, who played his true freshman season with a torn ACL and torn meniscus. “I just want them to realize that I'm going out there for them. If I'm out there, they ain't got nothing to worry about because I'll give it everything I got.”

A native of Oklahoma City, Lee first rose to national acclaim thanks to his high school highlight film, which was heavy on Lee tossing around opponents like rag dolls. The video went viral and schools tried to flip Lee from his commitment to Nevada, but he stayed firm and said his time with the Wolf Pack has been transformational.

“I love the mindset that we're all underdogs here,” Lee sad. “I feel like everyone here thinks Big 10, Big 12, SEC, we can compete. I feel like we’re all guys that people slipped up on or just overlooked and didn't give us a chance. I just love the underdog mentality, just the grit that we base the whole program on.”

Lee believes his grit has been passed down to his son. Chance is only 18 months old, but he's already showing some characteristics of his dad. He's a bruiser, too.

“He's very rough," Lee said with a laugh. "He's very tough. He's always hitting his head, falling down, jumping off beds. He's a daredevil, so I know he's going to have something from me.”

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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