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Devon Still Discusses Importance Of Positivity & Resilience During SPA Lecture

Former Penn State football All-American defensive tackle Devon Still welcomed students to Schwab Auditorium Monday evening for a lecture presented by the Penn State Student Programming Association (SPA).

Still, who retired from a six-year NFL career with the Bengals and Texans in 2014, now tours as a motivational speaker. Still also works as an assistant instructor, focusing on positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year kicked off his talk by relaying to students what Happy Valley means to him. In 2007, the Delaware native elected to play for Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley’s defense after a whirlwind high school recruiting process.

“Penn State has always been a big part of my life,” Still said. “Any time I’m able to come and share with the student body, it’s always a pleasure.”

Soon after, Still opened up his discussion with a simple question: “What is success?”

After asking a fan in the audience, who happened to be wearing his patented No. 75 Cincinnati Bengals jersey, what his definition would be, Still gave a concrete description of his own.

“Success is what you accomplish compared to what you were created to accomplish,” Still said.

Prior to his unprecedented run of success for the Nittany Lions, Still tore his ACL as a true freshman in the 2007 preseason. Despite it being early in his tenure with the blue and white, Still had an instant realization.

“My gift wasn’t playing football. It was my talent,” Still said. “But, the one thing I had that other players didn’t was the ability to be resilient.”

However, through Still’s ability to remain resilient on his way to becoming one of the most coveted pass rushers in Penn State football’s history, the level of adversity he faced in college paled in comparison to the challenges he dealt with in the early 2010s.

In June 2014, Still’s four-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma — giving her just over a 50% chance to survive. Around the same window as Leah’s diagnosis, Still was suffering his own difficulties, struggling to maintain a roster spot with the Bengals.

But at that moment, Still learned the true meaning of failure. While most people think shortcomings happen as a result of specific moments, the pass rusher learned the root cause of failure often occurs from routine deficiencies.

“Failure is the result of your process,” Still said. “It’s not a measure of who you are as a person.”

Initially, Still saw Leah’s personal battle with pediatric cancer as an area of personal failure on his end. Instead of attempting to initially seek solutions, Still said he allowed her setback to impact every area of his life, often closing him off to family and friends.

Shortly after, Still made a calculated “life decision.” By changing his mindset and perspective, he elected to let go of doubtful emotions in favor of positivity.

“But then, I realized that [her diagnosis] could bring us closer together,” Still said. “I changed from a pessamistic explanatory style to an optomistic explanatory style. You might be in a good season of your life and it won’t last forever. You could be in a bad season in your life and that won’t last forever either.”

Through his mindset alteration, Still adopted the “ABC mentality,” which stands for adversity, belief, and challenge. In his eyes, if people are able to believe in successful outcomes, adversity can help oust any challenge in its path.

By living life through an ABC-oriented lens, Still knows he was able to impact more people than just Leah through her difficult battle.

“One of the reasons I decided to go public with Leah’s story was because I had to find the purpose that was greater than her pain,” Still said. “It wasn’t about us — it was about the childhood cancer community.”

Now, Still focuses his efforts on giving back, whether it’s through teaching the importance of positivity to his students or advocating for pediatric cancer awareness with the Still Strong Foundation. Through it all, Still asked the audience to maintain one simple thought.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “In the blink of an eye, it could be all gone.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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