FOXBOROUGH — James Develin had to keep a secret.
Develin’s agent, James Ulrich, had set up a workout with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League but there was a catch. The former standout defensive lineman at Brown was switching positions.
“He just said, ‘Don’t tell them you’ve never played fullback before,’ ’’ Develin said with a laugh.
Keeping that little secret or telling that little white lie was no problem for Develin. Fresh off a one-game stint with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena League, he was back home trying to land an engineering job.
So, he put those résumés on hold and hopped on a flight to Orlando to continue building his football résumé.
“And things worked out,’’ Develin said. “It’s kind of a funny story now.’’
It’s been quite a journey for Develin since that 2010 tryout in central Florida. After completing the season with the Tuskers (yes, he still has some of his memorabilia from that team), he landed in Cincinnati. He spent the final five games of 2010 and all of 2011 on the Bengals’ practice squad before being released.
His next stop was back in New England, where he spent most of 2012 on the practice squad but has pretty much been a mainstay on offense ever since — not including 2015 when he spent the season on injured reserve.
Develin has won a pair of Super Bowls in New England and Tuesday earned his first Pro Bowl nod.
“It’s cool to kind of look back on things,” he said Wednesday. “It’s definitely a proud journey of mine and something I will look back on with fond memories. But we have a lot of football here left, so the focus is definitely on these next two weeks getting two wins and carrying on into the playoffs.’’
The recognition is validation for Develin’s commitment to hard work and perseverance. There were a number of times over the last seven years when he could have given up and fallen back on his Ivy League degree. Doing that, however, would have haunted him the way he haunts defenders who try to get in his way of clearing a path for tailbacks.
“It was a dream of mine,’’ said Develin, who’s only gotten his hand on the ball six times this season — all receptions — but gets them on opponents on every snap. “And I knew if I had never given it a shot, I would regret it. So, just from hard work and being in the right place at the right time and stuff like that, anything’s possible.’’
Develin said the one fullback he tried to emulate was former Eagle and Patriot Kevin Turner. Develin grew up an Eagles fan and attended just one game growing up. In that game, Turner, who died in 2016 after battling ALS, made a great catch and Develin always remembered it.
Hard work has been Develin’s hallmark at every stop along the journey. One of the first people to acknowledge Develin’s Pro Bowl berth was receiver Andrew Hawkins. The two played together in Cincinnati and briefly in New England this summer.
“Was known for being the 1st one in the facility (by 5 am) & getting 3 hour [hardcore] lifts in before & after everyone left,’’ Hawkins tweeted. “Never got his opp & was cut. He is now a pro bowl fullback & 2-time SB champ.’’
Develin confirmed Hawkins’s accounts Wednesday afternoon, appropriately enough, after a lifting session.
“Oh yeah,’’ he said.
Matthew Slater, himself a seven-time Pro Bowler, had the highest praise for Develin, also a core special teamer.
“I can honestly say [that in] 10 years of pro football, I’ve never had a better teammate. And there’s no question about that. You talk about a guy that’s unselfish and does everything the right way. To see him get that honor, we’re all just thrilled for him.’’
Count Bill Belichick, who gave him his shot here, among his biggest fans.
“I think it’s great,’’ said the coach. “He has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His playtime has increased. His production has increased . . . whenever you see James, he’s working.’’
As happy as Develin is to be selected to the Pro Bowl, it’s a game he hopes he never plays in. He’s got bigger dreams — another Super Bowl berth.
“That’s the ultimate goal and that’s what we’re working for,’’ he said.
No need to keep that secret.