When the Bengals drafted defensive tackle Devon Still out of Penn State in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, most thought the team had a steal on their hands. He was the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and though his motor was questioned, his athleticism wasn't.
Also sitting in Still's corner was the fact he didn't have to jump into a starting role with Cincinnati--he could learn behind two talented veterans in Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. While he flashed promise at practice and in the preseason, it wasn't quite enough to give him significant snaps or the opportunity to supplant the entrenched starters. Further complicating his career were a number of injuries, both short-term and long.
Little did anyone know, Still would soon have another private issue stunting his NFL progress. In June 2014, Still's young daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with a serious form of pediatric cancer, which obviously and understandably hindered his ability to focus on football. While he hid the battle from the public for a few months, he decided to announce Leah's disease before the 2014 season.
What transpired after the announcement was one of those periods of time that makes one restore their faith in humanity. The team stepped up in the form of keeping Still on their Practice Squad so he could continue to receive much-needed health care coverage for Leah's treatment. It allowed Still to participate and keep up with the team without the pressures of being on the active roster. The Bengals also instituted an initiative where they sold Still's jerseys with all proceeds going to Pediatric Cancer research. The league and NFL fans responded resoundingly with all parties raising about $1.4 million for the charitable purpose.
A few months ago, Still made the joyous announcement that Leah was officially in remission and is heading for the clear, in terms of her health. The news has since been re-confirmed just last week by more tests and another hospital visit. With the news comes the possibility of Still playing football again after the Bengals released him before the 2015 regular season.
Last night, Still was in Cincinnati for a charity event, and spoke with some media in attendance, including ESPN. Still talked about a couple of job opportunities he could be looking at for the 2016 NFL season.
"I just want to go somewhere where I have the opportunity to continue on with my football career and make an impact," Still said at his fundraiser. Coley Harvey relayed that two teams have expressed interest in his services, offering him futures contracts, meaning he could sign with one of those teams at the end of the season. Former teammate Carlos Dunlap, who was a special guest at Still's charity event on Monday night, noted the great shape Still continues to be in after an insane workout regimen he started this offseason.
"This is the best shape I've seen him in," Dunlap told Harvey. "To see that he's still maintaining it even after all these months, he's football-ready. So I look forward to seeing him get back to football whenever his name is called, and letting him go out there and be the player that we saw at Penn State."
Leah is still undergoing treatments, and will be until January which Still says kept teams from wanting to sign him this season. "My daughter went into remission last March, but she still had a long way to go as far as treatment," he said. "They weren't really sure which direction that was going to go in, but now that my daughter is about to be finished, teams will be able to see that we can get back to living our normal lives."
It's an unfair sentiment for teams to have, but the NFL just isn't a fair enterprise all the time. Even the Bengals, who showed an incredible amount of goodwill over the past couple of years, couldn't wait around for Still to start playing like the guy they always hoped he would become. But, true to Still's nice guy nature, he has nothing but the best feelings for the Bengals even after his release.
"They're getting exactly what they deserve," Still said. "When you do good, you receive good. And the way the Bengals organization stuck by me last year given what my daughter was going through, and seeing what type of season they're having now, I couldn't wish for anything better for them."
What a guy, huh? And, with Leah's recent positive prognosis and promising outlook going forward, Still is getting exactly what he deserves too.