Franklin coach Anthony Burgos' message to freshman linebacker Devin Mayo was clear: Get to the quarterback and end this game. Franklin was leading by a touchdown, but Woodlawn had the ball deep in Franklin territory on fourth down. The Woodlawn offense was gaining momentum, picking apart Franklin with enough screens to fill up a glass mansion. They called for middle screens, wide receiver screens and running back screens, all of which seemed to offset the Franklin pass rush.
Naturally, on this crucial fourth-down play, they called for another screen. But Mayo knew it was coming. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound middle linebacker shot the gap like a locomotive racing out of a tunnel. He drilled the quarterback and caused a fumble. Game. Set. Match.
"My coach called told me I had to get in fast because they were going to run a screen," Mayo said. "I had to guess which lineman was going to move on the block. I guessed right and got the game-winning sack."
Quite a play for a freshman making just his fourth start on varsity. Of course, Devin Mayo was not a typical freshman. He spent just five games at safety on jayvee, where he manhandled the opposition. He forced a midseason call-up to varsity, but the coach moved him to linebacker in order to fill a team weakness. Mayo made a flawless transition -- from jayvee to varsity and from safety to linebacker. Plays like the one against Woodlawn became routine.
"When I step on that field, I always have the confidence to know I can play with the best," said Mayo, who transferred to St. Frances Academy in Baltimore after his freshman season. "All the hard work is paying off. No one has beaten me yet."
And that's not an idle boast. Mayo has matched up with elite underclassmen receivers at the National Underclassmen Combine in D.C. and Division I-caliber wide-outs at the Nike SPARQ Combine in Baltimore and Rivals 100 Camp in Oklahoma. He showed off his tremendous cover skills, his physical one-on-one play, his Dwight-Howardesque wingspan and his explosive first step.
Mayo earned defensive back MVP honors in D.C., was named the best freshman and a Top 150 player in Baltimore and the No. 5 best defensive back in Oklahoma. After next season, he might be one of the preeminent safeties in Maryland.
"I've been tracking Devon since I was at St. Mary's and he was in eight grade playing youth football," said St. Frances coach Mike Clay. "He is most definitely a player. He's aggressive, he's fast, he's strong and he's got all the intangibles you look for."
The "intangibles" Clay referred to are Mayo's leadership and relentless drive to improve. Not only does he fill his calendar with camp and combine dates, but he's also in the weight room and on the field almost every day. He's setting the bar high for his new teammates at St. Frances.
"When I started working in the gym, a lot of my teammates started to follow me -- even the upperclassmen," Mayo said. "My mindset is right; I'm a leader."
Weight-room work has other benefits as well. Mayo is already benching 270 pounds, squatting 420 and running a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash. With those numbers, it's little wonder Mayo has the chiseled frame of a prospect about to enter college -- not his sophomore year of high school.
"When you first see him, you'll think he's a senior," Clay said. "He's well built and he works hard for it. Some kids have great natural ability, but they don't work the way Devon does."
His training sessions are atypical to say the least. Sure he does individual power lifting and speed training, but he also challenges cream-of-the-crop receivers like Milford Mill's Tyrek Cheeseboro (Maryland) and City's Adrian Coxson (Penn State). Then he works with fellow safeties Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), who plays at Mount St. Joseph's, and Carl Fleming (Pittsburgh), a former teammate at Franklin.
"I pick up a lot of tips from them," Mayo said. "I practiced with Carl Fleming every day at Franklin, and that really helped me a lot. He's a safety and I want to be a safety in college."
And not just any college. Mayo's dream is to follow in the footsteps of Ed Reed, who starred at safety for Miami. Mayo models his game after the All-Pro and spends free time watching Reed's Ravens highlights.
"I would love to play at Miami," Mayo said. "Ed Reed is my favorite player. I like how he's able to play centerfield and makes those over-the-shoulder catches."
The Hurricanes haven't contacted him yet, but at least three Division I schools have sent letters: Maryland, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. That number will increase after this season.
"I would be shocked if after this year he isn't getting even more attention," Clay said. "He's a Division I prospect."
Now, Clay and Co. will reap the rewards thanks to Mayo's choice to transfer from Franklin to St. Frances. Mayo did not base his decision solely on football, although that did play a role. The main factor was academics, he said.
"Franklin is a nice school, but St. Frances is a better opportunity for me athletically and academically," Mayo said. "At St. Frances, there's less kids in every class and I get more one-on-one attention."
He'll also get to play strong safety as opposed to linebacker. St. Frances will let Mayo ball hawk just like his idol, Reed.
"It's been a blessing to have him," Mayo said. "He'll be a real bright spot for our program."
In three years, he'll be a real bright spot for a college program, too.